Research shows anthrax can stay in cells for days

Research recently published by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne showed that anthrax bacteria can hide in human cells for days, evading both the immune system and antibiotics.

The research findings were published in the Thursday edition of Cell Reports.

"The anthrax bacteria kills people in a very short period of time, and this is in large part due to the production of the anthrax lethal toxin," Gisou van der Goot of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne said. "This toxin disarms our immune system, but also, as very recently shown, affects our heart."

Van der Goot said researchers looked at how the toxin was delivered to the cells and discovered two main ingredients: the damaging lethal factor and a protective antigen.

The antigen is required for cells to move the toxin for storage. Researchers confirmed that channels created by the antigen to facilitate movement might be capable of moving the toxin into protective sacs within the larger cell.

Once inside the sacs, the toxin can hibernate without decaying for days. Researchers also found the toxin can be passed to other cells during cell reproduction.

Van der Goot said this is why anthrax is so deadly, but new understanding of its behavior comes with an upside.

"By studying these interactions, we can learn more than how to fight anthrax infection," van der Goot said. "We also learn a lot about how cells work."