Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have discovered a way to block the damaging actions of Chlamydia, the bacteria responsible for the largest number of sexually transmitted infections in the United States.
The team, which included Duke University microbiologists and chemists, designed a molecule that takes away the bacteria's self-defense mechanisms.
The therapies that could come from this discovery mark a new type of antimicrobial approach. Instead of directly killing the bacteria, they will disarm a central weapon of Chlamydia, and let the body take care of the rest.
Chlamydia infections are symptomless at the beginning, but can become chronic in women and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility as it infects cells in the uterus and fallopian tubes. It's generally harmless to men. While these infections can be treated with antibiotics, Chlamydia can be easily reacquired and arise as a greater problem again. There are more than nearly 3 million new cases in the U.S. each year.
A virulence factor that Chlamydia produces, called CPAF, emerged as a promising target to shut down because it plays an important role in protecting the bacteria within hiding places (vacuoles) in human cells. CPAF also prevents the human cell from committing suicide when it senses that it has been invaded by a pathogen (a common self-defense mechanism), giving Chlamydia bacteria an extended chance to multiply and stay hidden.
"The Chlamydia Protease CPAF Regulates Host and Bacterial Proteins to Maintain Pathogen Vacuole Integrity and Promote Virulence" (http://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/abstract/S1931-3128(11)00198-3)