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Let Bacteria Sleep
December 18, 2006 12:14

Over half a century lasts the reign of antibiotics in medicine. Infectious diseases seemed to be totally defeated. But the hopes were completely deceived, and infectious diseases still exist – moreover recent years show the growth of tuberculosis incidence all around the world. World Health Organization reports following data: tuberculosis tests of 9 million people show positive results, and 2 million people die of the disease complications.

Large pharmaceutical company Novartis has organized a scientific symposium on the burning issue of tuberculosis, which took place in Russia this October. Mentioned meeting was the third one dedicated to tuberculosis problems. The symposium was aimed at encouraging scientific exchange between the Novartis company and Russian science and research institutions. One of the hottest problems discussed during the symposium, was asymptomatic tuberculosis course. Over 2 billion people (every third human being on Earth, in other words) are currently infected with tuberculosis. However, most of them are fortunate to be quite healthy – they lack symptoms of this menacing disease. The only way for doctors to find whether a patient has tuberculosis in its latent form is a positive Mantoux test.


Tuberculosis carriers usually have strong immune system, which prevents bacteria from further proliferation. In other words, bacteria are dormant. However, for some reason, which still remains unknown, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is able to “wake up” – from 5 to 10 per cent of symptom-lacking tuberculosis carriers fall ill. Stage of latency – from the moment of being infected to appearance of specific symptoms – can last from several months to several years. Emotional stress, illnesses, physical activities may promote transformation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from dormant to active state.

Many think-tanks around the world are currently looking for factors, which cause dormant bacteria to become active. In 1998 research fellows from the Bach’s Institute of Biochemistry (laboratory of biochemistry of microorganisms’ stress) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow) together with their colleagues from the University of Wales (Great Britain) have found a family of protein substances, which really deserve the name of “reanimation factors”. These molecules have been named with an English abbreviation of Rpf (resuscitation promoting factors).

Rpf-molecules appeared to participate in the “dormancy” and “awakening” mechanism of tuberculosis. Reanimation factors are excreted by Mycobacteria tuberculosis, but not dormant ones – by those, which are active. Even a dormant population appeared to have a small number of active bacteria excreting molecules of protein, which make “sleepy-heads” wake up stimulating their active proliferation.


It is very hard to detect dormant mycobacteria, but getting rid of them is a much more difficult mission – antibiotics, which cure active form of tuberculosis, have no effect on dormant microorganisms. The only solution for preventing transformation of bacteria from latent form to active one is finding some agents, able to suppress “reanimation factors”. Scientists have already started the search and synthesis of agents, able to suppress activities of Rpf-molecules within the joint programme together with the Institute of Chemical Diversity. These new treating agents will make tuberculosis carriers forget their worries – bacteria in their organisms will remain asleep forever.


Kizilova Anna

Tags: Russian scientists Russian science Russian Academy of Sciences   

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