Scientists discover a surprising new way that tuberculosis s
When Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, infects a person, the body's immune response is critical to how the disease will progress—either helping the body fight the bacterium or exacerbating the infection.

This new finding may point to an effective target for a gene-based treatment or preventative therapy for tuberculosis, which sickens about 10 million people and kills 1-2 million people annually according to the World Health Organization. Available treatments are only 85% effective and multidrug-resistant forms of tuberculosis pose a public health threat in many parts of the world.

The team, made their discovery by infecting a type of white blood cell called a macrophage with either Mtb—the bacterium that causes tuberculosis—or a non-virulent bacterium and observing the cell's response. The researchers found that a complex of proteins called the inflammasome was dramatically limited in cells infected with Mtb, but not in those infected with the non-virulent bacteria. The inflammasome surveys a cell's interior for pathogens and then signals the cell to launch an immune response.

Next, the team wanted to know if a specific Mtb gene was responsible for suppressing the inflammasome. The researchers inserted genes of Mtb into a non-virulent mycobacterium species and used these mutants to infect new macrophages. They discovered that infections with non-virulent bacteria carrying the Mtb gene named PknF limited the inflammasome response in host cells.

"We don't know how this gene inhibits the inflammasome," the researcher said, "but the function of this gene is to regulate the production and/or secretions of lipids, so we think maybe the bacterium modifies lipid secretion in a way that influences the inflammasome. That is what we will be investigating in future studies."

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