Scientists from NIH discover how anthrax causes illness and death

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute announced on Wednesday that they discovered cells in the body that are targeted by anthrax.

The researchers from both institutes, which are each part of the National Institutes of Health, found specific cells in two separate parts of the body that are first targeted by anthrax toxins. The research was conducted on mice and the results were posted online on August 28 in Nature.

Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that produces two deadly toxins, one of them a lethal toxin and the other an edema toxin. When entering a human or animal host, both of these toxins search for and then bind to receptors on the surfaces of human and animal cells. Looking at the mice in laboratories, the researchers found that the lethal toxin targeted heart cells and muscle cells that surround blood vessels, while the edema toxin targeted liver cells.

These results could help scientists study and better understand the anthrax disease in humans. The results might help future scientists advance treatments that reduce damage to the specific cells that these toxins target.

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