Bacteria that eat sugar and release cavity-causing acid onto teeth may soon be made dramatically more vulnerable to their own acid. Researchers have identified key genes and proteins that, if interfered with, can take away the ability of a key bacterial species to thrive as its acidic waste builds up in the mouth. The ability of Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) to survive in acid is one reason that the species is the main driver of tooth decay worldwide. Past research has shown that this ability has several components including a bacterial enzyme called fatty acid biosynthase M (FabM), which when shut down, makes S. mutans almost precisely 10,000 times more vulnerable to acid damage. In addition, early work suggests that FabM or one of its relatives may also help all Streptococci (strep) and Staphylococci (staph) infections to resist the human body’s defenses, which include immune cells that subject bacteria to acid. Between them, “strep” and “staph” bacteria are responsible for meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, methicillin-resistant staph aureus, the “flesh-eating” infection (fasciitis), as well as infections on heart valves and around stents.
While FabM represents a major target for the design of new drugs, the focus of the next round of work is to identify and rank every one of the 2,000 known S. mutans genes that contributes to its “fitness” (ability to survive, out-compete other strains and cause disease). A research team at the University of Rochester Medical Center announced that it has received a $3.6 million fitness profiling grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Grant-funded projects will seek to create a catalogue of proteins that, along with FabM, can serve as targets for a multi-pronged attack on bacteria that tend to evolve around single-thrust treatments. “Our first goal is to force the major bacterium behind tooth decay to destroy itself with its own acid as soon as it eats sugar,” said Robert G. Quivey, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and principal investigator for the grant. “After that, this line of work could help lead to new anti-bacterial combination therapies for many infections that have become resistant to antibiotics.”
January 22, 2008
Original web page at Science Daily