Researcher discovers how anthrax attacks cells

An international research scholar at Howard Hughes Medical Institute has, for the first time, identified the cell signaling event that sets anthrax's attack on the human body in motion.

In  a paper published Dec. 28, 2009, Gisou van der Goot and her colleagues at the Global Health Institute of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland laid out how the anthrax toxin times its attack in the human body. The paper says that anthrax first assembles its component parts on the surface of a target cell and then hijacks the signals of the cell.

The toxin, which is moored to a receptor outside the cell, then directly activates an enzyme family called src-like kinases inside the cell. The receptors, with the anthrax toxin attached, are then pulled by the kinases into the cytoplasm for digestion. The toxin is then pulled inside of the cell and slices it up.

Van der Goot says that drugs to block src-like kinases are not likely to be an effective treatment for anthrax as they could be unsafe for humans.

“Still this is the first evidence that src-like kinases are important in anthrax,” she told Health News Digest.

Before this paper, scientists has known that the anthrax toxin hovered outside of cells but did not know how it got inside of the cells.

Anthrax was found to use a two step strategy using its three components - the edema factor, the lethal factor and a protective antigen. In the first state, the anthrax creates the edema factor and lethal factor molecules. In stage two, a protective antigen is created by the anthrax bacteria that allows the edema factor and lethal factor inside of the cell.