University of Alabama at Birmingham

A gene in tuberculosis bacteria is found essential for siderophore secretion and virulence

Lei Zhang, Ph.D., and Michael Niederweis, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham have made what they call “a major step” in understanding how Mycobacterium tuberculosis acquires iron from its human host — a process essential for the pathogenesis of this bacterium. Tuberculosis kills more than 1 million people each year, but without iron, M. tuberculosis cannot grow.

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How the pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis secretes and trafficks its only known exotoxin

Six years ago, Michael Niederweis, Ph.D., described the first known toxin of the deadly pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), an exotoxin that had gone undetected for 132 years. 

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First 3D view of TB granulomas alters paradigm of their shape and formation

For 70 years, clinicians thought they knew the shape of tuberculosis granulomas in the lungs of patients. Histology — the study of microscopic structures in thin slices of lung tissue in the 1940s and 1950s — showed round features, and researchers intuitively assumed that meant the granulomas were spherical or ovoid. 

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The TB pathogen releases its toxin by a novel protein transport system

Six years ago, Michael Niederweis, Ph.D., described the first toxin ever found for the deadly pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This toxin, tuberculosis necrotizing toxin, or TNT, became the founding member of a novel class of previously unrecognized toxins present in more than 600 bacterial and fungal species, as determined by protein sequence similarity. The toxin is released as M. tuberculosis bacteria survive and grow inside their human macrophage host, killing the macrophage and allowing the escape and spread of the bacteria.

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Hydrogen sulfide heightens disease in TB, suggesting a new therapeutic target

A new culprit — hydrogen sulfide — has been found for the deadly infectious disease tuberculosis. Hydrogen sulfide gas is known for its rotten egg smell, yet it has normal physiological roles in the human body to communicate among cells.

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An enzyme in immune cells plays essential role in host defense against TB

Using freshly resected lung tissue from 21 patients and two distinct mouse models, tuberculosis researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Africa Health Research Institute, or AHRI, have identified a protein that plays an essential role in host defense against this deadly disease.

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How Mycobacterium tuberculosis escapes death in macrophages

The bacteria that cause the devastating disease tuberculosis have the ability to escape destruction and grow after they are engulfed by lung macrophages, the immune cells that are supposed to destroy pathogens. Now researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have described key biochemical steps between the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the macrophage responsible for that ability.

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A “release and kill” strategy may aid treatment of tuberculosis

Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been called “the perfect pathogen.” These bacteria hijack human macrophages, persist inside the cells to evade immune destruction, and then prevent the macrophage from undergoing programmed cell death. This provides a niche where they grow in a protected environment that is hard to reach with antibiotics.

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A novel toxin – and the first ever found – for a deadly pathogen, M. tuberculosis

Despite 132 years of study, no toxin had ever been found for the deadly pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects 9 million people a year and kills more than 1 million.

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