Zurich – A team from the University of Zurich (UZH) has been able to explain how tuberculosis bacteria are able to take in iron. If this iron transport is stopped, they cannot reproduce further. The results of the research open the way to developing a drug that blocks this transportation.

 A team from the University of Zurich (UZH) has been able to explain how tuberculosis bacteria are able to take in iron.

 

According to a press release, a team of researchers from the UZH has discovered how the iron that is essential for tuberculosis bacteria to survive is transported into the bacterium. This insight could contribute to creating a drug against this pathogen, which is resistant to many of the most effective antibiotics. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1.5 million people died from this particular lung disease in 2019 alone. 

If a human cell is infected, it decreases the iron concentration to a minimum in an attempt to starve the intruder. At this, tuberculosis bacteria (M. tuberculosis) start to release small molecules called mycobactins, which are very good at binding to free iron. The iron captured by mycobactin is then transported back into the bacterium by a protein called IrtAB.

Markus Seeger, Study Director at the Institute of Medical Microbiology of the UZH explains: “The transport protein […] is essential for the survival of the pathogens. If IrtAB is absent or not functioning, M. tuberculosis can no longer reproduce inside the human cell.” The IrtAB transport protein is usually responsible for carrying molecules out of a bacterium. Markus Seeger adds: “However, we were able to show that IrtAB in fact imports mycobactins into M. tuberculosis.” This means that it works in the opposite direction.

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