Antibiotic tolerance study paves way for new treatments

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A new study identifies a mechanism that makes bacteria tolerant to penicillin and related antibiotics, findings that could lead to new therapies that boost the effectiveness of these treatments.

Antibiotic tolerance is the ability of bacteria to survive exposure to antibiotics, in contrast to antibiotic resistance, when bacteria actually grow in the presence of antibiotics. Tolerant bacteria can lead to infections that persist after treatment and may develop into resistance over time.

The study in mice, “A Multifaceted Cellular Damage Repair and Prevention Pathway Promotes High Level Tolerance to Beta-lactam Antibiotics,” published Feb. 3 in the journal EMBO Reports, reveals how tolerance occurs, thanks to a system that mitigates iron toxicity in bacteria that have been exposed to penicillin.

“We’re hoping we can design a drug or develop antibiotic adjuvants that would then basically kill off these tolerant cells,” said senior author Tobias Dörr, assistant professor of microbiology in the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Co-authors included Ilana Brito, the Mong Family Sesquicentennial Faculty Scholar and assistant professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering, and Lars Westblade, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine…

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