Novel Molecules Halt Bacteria in Their Tracks

Release Date:
Alison Davis, NIGMS

Quelling life-threatening infections with antibiotics is getting harder and harder to do. In recent years, a steady increase in the number of microorganisms that are resistant to standard antibiotic regimens has led to a diminishing number of drugs that can treat bacterial infections. The search for new antibiotics remains a pressing research priority.

Scientists have recently come up with a different approach to stop microbes in their tracks. NIGMS grantee Dr. James Hoch and his colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute have discovered a group of chemicals that, in laboratory experiments, kill many different strains of bacteria. The compounds, which block a common molecule that bacteria use to transmit signals from their environment, also appear to interfere with bacteria�s ability to develop resistance. The molecule Dr. Hoch�s team targeted, called kinase A (kinA), makes up half of a two-part relay system that bacteria use to gain a foothold in the host organism.

Most antibiotics work by silencing some aspect of bacterial metabolism, but the compounds Dr. Hoch�s group is investigating are unique because they target genes that encode a set of proteins, called "virulence factors," that enable microbes to thrive at the initial site of infection. Since the kinA relay is used by so many different types of bacteria, the new compounds have the potential to vanquish a broad spectrum of bugs. Already, Dr. Hoch has identified one such compound that kills a drug-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, the cause of toxic shock syndrome and other deadly infections.


Barrett JF, Goldschmidt RM, Lawrence LE, Foleno B, Chen R, Demers JP, Johnson S, Kanojia R, Fernandez J, Bernstein J, Licata L, Donetz A, Huang S, Hlasta DJ, Macielag MJ, Ohemeng K, Frechette R, Frosco MB, Klaubert DH, Whitely JM, Wang L, Hoch JA. Antibacterial agents that inhibit two-component signal transduction systems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 1998;95:5317-22.

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