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UKE makes progress in fight against tuberculosis

Researchers at UKE reveal structure of a key system for tuberculosis bacteria in "Nature Microbiology" journal - goal of developing medication

An international team of scientists from Hamburg, Vienna and Amsterdam has come at step closer to understanding how mycobacterium such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis function, a press release said Wednesday. This will ultimately lead to a greater understanding of bacteria responible for tuberculosis.

Findings published in “Nature Microbiology”

In a report published in Nature Microbiology, scientists from two Centre for Structure Systems Biology (CSSB) groups – Matthias Wilmanns, Head of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL Hamburg Unit) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Marlovits from Vienna, who is joining the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), reveal the first molecular structure of the type VII secretion system. This secretion system is comprised of four types of proteins that form a hexameric ring around a central pore. The system also has flexible molecular arms that reach into the interior of the bacterial cell and grasp molecules that need to be transported.

Goal of blocking transport with medication

“Our work shows that this is a new kind of architectural principle and an associated molecular transport mechanism unknown hitherto,“ said Professor Marlovits, CSSB. The study was carried out over two years and involved additional collaboration partners from the Vrije University Amsterdam and EMBL. “Each group was able to bring their specific knowledge and expertise to this project,” explained Marlovits, adding, “It is only by combining the different technologies and techniques available in each location that we were able to solve and verify the structure of the type VII secretion system.”

The researchers hope to eventually understand the detailed functon of the transport systems. Marlovits pointed out: “The idea is to eventually block this transport process with suitable medication which have yet to be developed.” This could weaken a tuberculosis infection or perhaps prevent it entirely. Tuberculosis, a lung infection, is one of the top ten causes of human deaths and counts among the most dangerous diseases worldwide along with malaria and HIV/AIDS. According to the World Health Organisation, around 1.5 million people died of tuberculosis in 2013 and 9 million contracted the disease.

Sources and further information:

About the Centre for Structure Systems Biology

The Centre for Structure Systems Biology (CSSB) is a joint initiative of ten research partners from northern Germany, including three universities and six research institutes. CSSB endeavours to become a leading international research centre in Hamburg. CSSB is devoted to infection biology and medicine by using structural and molecular biology methods and imaging techniques in conjunction with systems biology approaches. It aims to unravel the underlying mechanisms of important pathogenic processes to discover more effective treatment options against bacterial and viral pathogens. To achieve this goal, CSSB uses the world-class research infrastructures on the German Synchrotron Research Centre (DESY) campus. More information can be found on:

About the European Molecular Biology Laboratory

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is an intergovernmental organisation specialising in basic research in the life sciences. It is funded by public research monies from more than 20 member states, including Europe and Israel, and two associate members, Argentina and Australia. Activities at EMBL Hamburg focus on state-of-the-art structural biology methods using synchrotron radiation, combining cutting-edge technology with an ambitious research programme for structures of multifunctional proteins and protein complexes of biomedical relevance. EMBL’s laboratories are on the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) campus. More information can be found on:

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