Scientists Solve Half-Century Old Anthrax Mystery

For years, doctors have wondered why someone with an anthrax infection can die days after the bacteria responsible is wiped out from their body. New research claims the toxin made by the bacteria utilizes a \”Trojan horse\”-like method to elude the body\’s natural defenses.

“This remained a mysterious for more than 50 years,\” said study author Gisou van der Goot, a cell biologist at Switzerland’s prestigious cole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL). \”The bacteria would disappear following the administration of antibiotics, but the subject still died a few days later.

“The anthrax bacteria kills people in a really short time, which is in large part due to the manufacture of the anthrax lethal toxin,” she explained. “This toxin disarms our immune system, but additionally, as very recently shown, affects our heart.”

Believing the anthrax toxin was behind these somewhat mysterious deaths, the international team centered on the way the toxin entered the body’s cells. They found the appropriate part of the cell’s defenses consists of two components C a protective antigen along with a lethal factor. This protective antigen ferries the lethal factor into cells by helping it to cross the cell membrane, based on the team\’s report within the journal Cell Reports.

Once the toxin is within the cell, the lethal factor is actually engulfed through the cell’s membrane, forming a sheltering \’endosome.\’ After waiting in the endosome for approximately for several days, it can be either released in to the cell, disrupting it, or out of the cell, allowing it to enter another cell. The research team also discovered that the toxin may also be handed down from a cell to the progeny.

“The defense mechanisms doesn\’t have reason to react, because it only detects exosomes whose membrane is composed by the very same molecules creating the cell’s endosomes.” van der Goot explained.

The study team said their findings help to explain not just why an anthrax infection is so deadly, but also how cell membranes interact with various substances.

“By studying these interactions, we are able to learn more than how you can fight anthrax infection,” van der Goot said. “We also become familiar with a lot about how exactly cells work.

\”There continues to be much to learn about exosomes,\” she added. \”The results of this research will let us to better understand them.\”

The team said their study could lead to the development of drugs that target the lethal factor while contained within the cell’s membrane.

Named after the Greek word for ‘coal,\’ anthrax can build black skin lesions of individuals it infects. The Ames strain of the bacterium became well-publicized in 2001 after it was linked to several infections in the usa.

The more dangerous Vollum strain of the bacterium was weaponized during the World war 2, but not used at all. Isolated in 1935 from a British bovine, the Vollum strain was tested by British military scientists on the Scottish island of Gruinard.

For the weapons test, 80 sheep were taken to the area where bombs containing the deadly strain were detonated. The sheep died within days of exposure. Military films depicting the tests were declassified in 1997.