Research reveals that deletion of Epac1 gene protects from fatal rickettsiosis

Published on December 14, 2013 at 10:01 AM · No Comments

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have discovered a way to block a disease pathway that could be a breakthrough in defeating some of the world's most devastating human infections.

Rickettsioses are a group of insect-borne diseases caused by bacteria. One type, typhus fever, has been cited as a high-level threat by the National Institutes of Health because the bacteria can spread and multiply very easily, and the untreated infection can lead to death.

What researchers at UTMB have found is a way to protect against what can be a fatal rickettsial infection. Their findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Even more exciting, there is preliminary evidence that the experimental drug we have identified as being effective against rickettsiae may also be effective against viruses," said Dr. David Walker, chairman of the department of pathology at UTMB and executive director for the Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Many scientists are concerned that temperature increases due to global climate change will lead to more widespread cases of rickettsioses, since the bacteria are spread by ticks, lice, fleas and chiggers that thrive in warmer climates. In addition, because the bacteria are easily transmitted, they could pose a bioterrorism threat, Walker said.

The diseases, which include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can lead to death. In fact, a fatality rate as high as 32 percent has been reported in hospitalized patients with Mediterranean spotted fever.

"We believe that it is imperative that we find a way to control this disease," Walker said.

In their study at UTMB, scientists know signals to cells can be controlled by a molecular messenger known as cyclic AMP, which plays crucial roles in the development of many human diseases, including those caused by bacteria and viruses.

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