Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, both part of the National Institutes of Health, have identified the cells in two distinct areas of the body that are simultaneously targeted for damage by anthrax toxins, eventually causing illness and sometimes death. Their findings, which appeared online today in Nature, are based on testing in mice. However, the results may contribute to the development of anthrax treatments for humans, the researchers say.
Anthrax disease is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which produces two deadly toxins: lethal toxin and edema toxin. When B. anthracis infects a human or animal, both toxins seek out and bind to receptors on the surfaces of human and animal cells. Using two types of laboratory mice—those missing the anthrax toxin receptor on a single type of cell or those having the receptor present on a single type of cell—the scientists compared disease progression among the rodents. They concluded that anthrax-induced death is caused primarily by lethal toxin targeting heart cells and muscle cells surrounding blood vessels, and edema toxin targeting liver cells.
These results may help scientists studying anthrax disease in humans. For example, the study authors suggest, knowing the types of cells that anthrax toxins target could spur the development of treatments that reduce damage to those cells.
Liu S et al. Key tissue targets responsible for anthrax-toxin-induced lethality. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature12510 (2013).
Stephen H. Leppla, Ph.D., and Shihui Liu, M.D., Ph.D., of the Microbial Pathogenesis Section of NIAID's Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, are available to discuss the findings.
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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 http://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 http://www.nih.gov/.
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