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Researchers Find Source of Drug-Tolerant Tuberculosis Possibly Behind TB Relapses, Intensity of Treatment

Posted Jun 16 2008 6:13pm

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have discovered that the bacteria behind tuberculosis can grow on surfaces and that drug-tolerant strains flourish in these bacterial communities, the research team recently reported in Molecular Microbiology. The findings suggest a possible reason why human tuberculosis (TB) requires months of intensive antibiotic treatment and indicate a potential cause of the relapses that can nonetheless occur.

The researchers are the first to show that Mycobacterium tuberculosis can grow in surface-level bacteria clusters known as biofilms that are common in nature but never before shown for TB bacteria, explained the paper’s senior author Graham Hatfull, chair and Eberly Family Professor of Biological Sciences in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences. Hatfull collaborated and coauthored the paper with William Jacobs Jr., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of microbiology and immunology at Einstein.

Hatfull, Jacobs, and their colleagues found that the biofilm bacteria are physiologically and genetically different from TB bacteria harvested in a lab—the type used in developing antibiotics. These variations result in a population of the bacteria that are “drug-tolerant and harbor persistent cells that survive high concentrations of anti-tuberculosis antibiotics,” the team reports.

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