Researchers build on body's natural defense against C. difficile

Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, is a nasty bit of business. It can be the scourge of hospitals, striking patients when antibiotics kill all the "good bugs" that dwell in the gut--like the ones that aid in digestion--and leave only the dreaded harmful bacteria. But as it turns out, the body has a natural way of defending against C. difficile by inactivating the toxin that spreads it. And researchers describe how this knowledge can create new treatments in Nature Medicine.

C. difficile enters the gut through what Reuters colorfully describes as "molecular guillotine called cysteine protease." The bacteria can easily fit into cells lining the intestine, release their toxin and do their damage. However, the team discovered the body has a natural mechanism involving a nitric oxide-based molecule, S-nitrosoglutathione, which binds to the toxins secreted by C. difficile and prevents them from damaging cells. It gums up the guillotine; therefore, the next step is to come up with a way to bottle up that natural mechanism with a treatment that mimics the process.

"Understanding how this mechanism deactivates toxins provides a basis for developing new therapies that can target toxins directly and thereby keep bacterial infections, like C. difficile, from spreading," Jonathan Stamler, a Case Western Reserve University researcher, said in a release.

The researchers tried the new treatment on mice and saw promising results; however, more research is needed.

- read the Reuters report
- and the Case Western release

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