Novel agent inhibits communication between bacteria and renders them harmless

HIPS researchers receive award

23.11.2015

Prof. Rolf Hartmann

Puetz JoergProf. Rolf Hartmann

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the advance throughout the world. This makes it even more important to develop medications to control these microorganisms. Scientists at Saar-University and at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) engage in research on alternative agents. For example the team of Rolf Hartmann, professor of pharmacy, takes a close look at molecules pathogens use to communicate with each other. He developed an agent that interrupts this communication and thus attenuates the bacteria. This work has earned the researchers the Phoenix award. In addition, Hartmann recently received the Carl-Mannich medal of the German Pharmaceutical Society for his lifetime achievements.

Bacteria are the causative agents behind infections such as pneumonia and whooping cough. In most cases, antibiotics are used to treat these diseases. "However, many pathogens develop resistance against these medications," says Prof Rolf Hartmann. The pharmacist and his research group investigate alternative agents. In this endeavour, the scientists are focusing on the communication pathways of the bacteria. "Microorganisms are capable of communicating with each other. They use molecules for this purpose," says Hartmann. The professor explains that the communication works as follows: "A bacterium releases molecules into its environment, which then dock onto specific receptors on other bacteria. The bacteria then produce molecules that make people ill, so-called pathogenicity factors."

In a study, the researchers from Saarbrücken investigated the bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that can cause pneumonia, urinary tract and skin infections. These pathogens also form protein particles that are harmful to humans after communicating with each other. The researchers from Saarbrücken recently developed an active substance that interrupts bacterial communication and thus renders the bacteria harmless. "Our substance blocks a receptor on the recipient bacteria to which these molecules dock on," explains Hartmann. The pharmacists already demonstrated that the bacteria are no longer harmful once they have been exposed to the new agent.

The details of the efficacy now need to be investigated in further studies. This study has earned Hartmann and his team the Phoenix award. The award worth €10,000 is presented annually by the pharmaceutical firm, Phoenix, for extraordinary pharmaceutical research. In addition, Hartmann recently received the Carl-Mannich medal of the German Pharmaceutical Society for his lifetime achievements. Hartmann's scientific career has been devoted to drug research - initially as the chair of Pharmaceutical and Medical Chemistry at the Saar-University developing new medications for cardiovascular and tumour diseases followed by his work at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland investigating therapies for bacterial infections. Hartmann has been the director of the research group, "Drug design and optimization", at the Helmholtz Institute for the past six years.

The study titled "Overcoming the unexpected functional inversion of a PqsR antagonist in Pseudomonas aeruginosa: an in vivo potent antivirulence agent targeting pqs Quorum sensing has been published in "Angewandte Chemie".

Original publication:

Cenbin Lu, Christine K. Maurer, Benjamin Kirsch, Anke Steinbach, and Rolf W. Hartmann. Overcoming the Unexpected Functional Inversion of a PqsR Antagonist in Pseudomonas aeruginosa: An In Vivo Potent Antivirulence Agent Targeting pqs Quorum Sensing. Angewandte Chemie. 2013 Dec 11. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201307547

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