Story at a glance

  • Antibiotics have made a lot of modern health care possible.
  • Several types of bacterial diseases are becoming resistant to existing antibiotics.
  • A research group has developed a new group of small molecule compounds that have antibacterial effects.

Antibiotics are important for modern medical care. Many antibiotics kill bacteria by preventing it from being able to build a cell wall. The break in the outer membrane eventually causes the cell to die. However, antibiotic resistance, where the antibiotics work less well at killing the bacteria, is becoming a larger and larger global issue.

In a paper published in the journal PNAS, a team of researchers introduce a new group of compounds that could potentially be used as antibiotics in the future. Some antibiotics work by targeting and binding to a specific lipid molecule in the cell membrane called lipid II. “We have identified the first small antibacterial compounds that work by binding to this lipid molecule, and in our study, we found no resistant bacterial mutants, which is very promising,” says Birgitta Henriques Normark, who is professor at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, in a press release.


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The research team developed a new type of antibacterial molecule that can work against microbes that have become resistant to existing antibiotics. In experiments, the small molecule named THCz had an antibacterial effect on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The team tested it against methicillin-resistant staphylococci (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and penicillin-resistant pneumococci (PNSP). They also tested it against bacteria that can cause gonorrhoea and tuberculosis. In the laboratory setting, they didn’t see any of the bacteria they tested develop resistance to THCz.

The researchers hope to modify the molecule so that it can get through the cell membrane of “multi-resistant” bacteria. They can also try to adjust it so that it leads to fewer side effects if used as a treatment in the future. “The advantage of small molecules like these is that they are more easy to change chemically,” says Fredrik Almqvist, who is professor at the Department of Chemistry at Umeå University, in the press release. “We hope to be able to change THCz so that the antibacterial effect increases and any negative effects on human cells decrease.”


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Published on Nov 28, 2021