The sexually transmitted infection (STI) gonorrhoea has been on the rise, and is the subject of sustained public health concerns. This is all thanks to the superbug Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a strain of the bacterium that’s resistant to antimicrobial drugs.
In a new paper in the journal mBio, researchers from Flinders University and the Australian National University have identified and analysed the prime mechanism for this crafty superbug’s resistance. They say their research may pave the way for more effective future treatments.
“Antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae has reached an alarming level,” says lead author Melissa Brown, from Flinders’ department of microbiology. Consequently, the World Health Organization ranks N. gonorrhoeae as one of 12 major antimicrobial-resistant bacteria of concern around the globe.
“We need to find the strengths and weaknesses in these species.”
Read more: What is a superbug?
Untreated gonorrhoea is associated with a number of dangerous complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women, so its successful treatment is paramount.
The researchers found that a key protein, MtrD, in the membrane of N gonorrhoeae provides the microbe with resistance, acting like a ‘pump’ that draws antimicrobial drugs out from the inner membrane, contributing to the bacterium’s resistance. They identified a particular amino-acid sequence within the MtrD protein, known as the N917-P927 sequence, that, when removed, significantly reduced MtrD’s resistance to drugs.
“In this study, we have focused on the manner by which drugs are pumped out of these cells, which helps the superbug become more resistant and able to survive treatment by multiple drugs,” says Brown. “Such treatment failures subsequently lead to increased medical costs and a decrease in human general and reproductive health.”
The identified amino-acid sequence could prove to be the golden ticket in fighting the disease. According to first author Mohsen Chitsaz, it could be a target for future antibiotic or antimicrobial development.
Amalyah Hart has a BA (Hons) in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Oxford and an MA in Journalism from the University of Melbourne.
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