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National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

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NIAID MEDIA AVAILABILITY
NIH Scientists Show how Anthrax Bacteria Impair Immune Response

Studies in Mice Reveal How Bacteria Hamper Front-line Defense Cells

WHAT:
Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, have determined a key mechanism by which Bacillus anthracis bacteria initiate anthrax infection despite being greatly outnumbered by immune system scavenger cells. The finding, made by studying genetically modified mice, adds new detail to the picture of early-stage anthrax infection and supports efforts to develop vaccines and drugs that would block this part of the cycle.

To start an infection, anthrax bacteria release a toxin that binds to immune cells through two receptors, TEM8 and CMG2, found on the cell surface. The binding allows two additional bacterial toxins to enter the cells, setting off a chain of events that impairs their ability to ingest and kill the bacteria.

In the new research, NIAID investigators Stephen Leppla, Ph.D., Shihui Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues bred mice that lacked CMG2 receptors on two kinds of immune cells, neutrophils and macrophages. These usually are the first cells to arrive at the site of an anthrax infection, where they engulf the invading bacteria and try to prevent the spread of infection.

Mice without CMG2 receptors on these immune cells were completely resistant to infection by B. anthracis bacteria, experiencing only a temporary swelling at the site of infection, and fully clearing the infection within two weeks. In contrast, in normal mice, the level of anthrax bacteria increased rapidly in the 48 hours following infection, and all the mice died within six days.

The researchers concluded that B. anthracis uses CMG2 receptors to impair the scavenging action of neutrophils and macrophages during early infection, giving the bacteria time to multiply to levels sufficient to overwhelm the body’s defenses.  Developing drugs and vaccines that block B. anthracis from establishing early infection via binding to the CMG2 receptor, say the study authors, may be crucial to success in treating and preventing anthrax disease.

ARTICLE:
S Liu et al. Anthrax toxin targeting of myeloid cells through the CMG2 receptor is essential for establishment of Bacillus anthracis infections in mice. Cell Host and Microbe. DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2010.10.004 (2010).

WHO:
Stephen H. Leppla, Ph.D., Laboratory of Bacterial Diseases, NIAID, is available to comment on this research.

CONTACT:
To schedule interviews, please contact Anne A. Oplinger in the NIAID Office of Communications at 301-402-1663 or niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov


NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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Last Updated November 17, 2010

Last Reviewed November 16, 2010