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Nature Biotechnology

March 19, 2012

The bacterial signaling molecule indole is the direct cause of antibiotic resistance by some bacterial cells, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Chemical Biology. These findings improve our understanding of bacterial populations and point toward a potential new direction in the development of more effective antibacterial agents. Bacterial ‘persisters’ are cells that cannot be eradicated by existing antibiotic treatments even though the cells are genetically identical to cells that are killed by the treatment. Indole has been linked to cellular processes that are important in persisters, but its role was not clear. James Collins and colleagues show that indole serves as a signal for bacterial cells to enter a protected state. In particular, it decreases the impact of several antibiotics on E. coli, with cells that respond best to the molecule also demonstrating the highest level of protection. The authors also showed that indole activates two cellular pathways - oxidative stress and phage-shock responses - that are involved in persister formation. Importantly, another molecule that could also trigger these pathways causes the same formation of protected cells.

DOI:10.1038/nchembio.915 | Original article

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