The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae - which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia and sepsis - likes to share its antibiotic-defeating weaponry with its neighbors. Individual cells can pass resistance genes to one another through a process called horizontal gene transfer, or by "transformation," the uptake of DNA from the environment.
Now researchers report that they can interrupt the cascade of cellular events that allows S. pneumoniae to swap or suck up DNA. The new findings, reported in the journal PLoS ONE, advance the effort to develop a reliable method for shutting down the spread of drug resistance in bacteria.
"Within the last few decades, S. pneumoniae has developed resistance to several classes of antibiotics," said University of Illinois pathobiology professor Gee Lau, who led the study. "Importantly, it has been shown that antibiotic stress - the use of antibiotics to treat an infection - can actually induce the transfer of resistance genes among S. pneumoniae. Our approach inhibits resistance gene transfer in all strains of S. pneumoniae, and does so without increasing selective pressure and without increasing the likelihood that resistant strains will become dominant."
Lau and his colleagues focused on blocking a protein that, when it binds to a receptor in the bacterial cell membrane, spurs a series of events in the cell that makes the bacterium "competent" to receive new genetic material. The researchers hypothesized that interfering with this protein (called CSP) would hinder its ability to promote gene transfer.