By targeting certain proteins present in the human cells, the scientists from DZIF and from University Hospital Cologne can help treat tuberculosis. It is believed that these proteins assist the tuberculosis bacteria in causing destruction. The results of this study are published in the journal of Nature Communications.
Tuberculosis treatment still entails the intake of several antibiotics over a period of many months and is torturous for many patients. The pathogen's increasing multidrug resistance additionally complicates this lengthy treatment, and side effects frequently lead to a discontinuation of treatment and high mortality rates. Developing alternative treatment approaches is therefore of critical importance. DZIF scientists from the University Hospital Cologne are working on immunotherapy that supports antibiotic treatment. In their current study, they were able to identify a new target protein in human immune cells, which can inhibit the bacteria's destructive effects.
Jan Rybniker from the University Hospital Cologne and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) explains the goal of the research work, "If we can support antibiotic treatment with immunotherapy, the duration of treatment would be shortened, which in turn would reduce secondary complications." The scientists are on a quest for drugs that are able to inhibit tuberculosis-induced cell death (necrosis) and the consequent destruction of lung tissue. In contrast, to directly targeting the bacteria with antibiotics, this treatment is host-directed and hence combats the consequences of infection without targeting the pathogen directly.
The scientists used cell biology investigations to elucidate the precise mechanism of action for the effect of steroids. A protein called p38 MAP kinase, which increases the release of inflammatory hormones and induces cell death, plays a central role in this pathway. "We have identified a new target protein in this kinase, which we can inhibit with active agents," says Rybniker. Numerous p38 MAP kinase inhibitors have already been tested in clinical trials on rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and chronic lung diseases. The DZIF scientist is certain, "These substances could now also be used for tuberculosis treatment."
The Cologne researches now intend to use high-throughput screening to find further substances that can inhibit tuberculosis-induced cell death by blocking the above-mentioned kinase. In collaboration with the Research Center Borstel, these substances will subsequently be tested further in animal models. In doing so, the scientists hope to discover new paths in immunotherapy.