A new study has found that a small molecule composed of one atom of oxygen and one of nitrogen plays an important role in helping pathogens resist antibiotics.
The study, led by Evgeny Nudler, professor of biochemistry at New York University Langone Medical Center, and published in Science magazine, provides evidence that nitric oxide (NO) is able to alleviate stress in bacteria caused by many antibiotics and helps it neutralize many antibacterial compounds.
"Developing new medications to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria ... is a huge hurdle, associated with great cost and countless safety issues," Nudler said in a statement.
"Here, we have a short cut, where we don't have to invent new antibiotics. Instead, we can enhance the activity of well established ones, making them more effective at lower doses."
Nitric oxide was initially known as a toxic gas and air pollutant until 1987 when a study that won a Nobel Prize showed that it played a physiological role in mammals.
Nitric oxide has since been found to take part in a range of activities, including learning and memory, blood pressure regulation, penile erection, digestion and the fighting of infection and cancer.
A few years ago, Nudler and his associates demonstrated that harmful bacteria mobilize nitric oxide to defend against the oxidative stress.
The new study from this same group supports the idea that many antibiotics cause the oxidative stress in bacteria, often resulting in their death, whereas nitric oxide counters this effect.
This work suggests scientists could use commercially available inhibitors of nitric oxide-synthase, an enzyme producing nitric oxide in bacteria and humans, to make antibiotic resistant bacteria more sensitive to available drugs.
"We are very excited about the potential impact of this research in terms of continuing to push the boundaries of research in the area of infectious diseases," said Vivian Lee, senior vice president of NYU Langone Medical Center.
"With the emergence of drug resistant bacteria, it's imperative that researchers strive to find conceptually new approaches to fight these pathogens."