New Study Explains Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria

US - A small molecule composed of one atom of oxygen and one of nitrogen plays an important role in helping pathogens resist antibiotics, according to the New York-based authors of a newly published study.
calendar icon 18 September 2009
clock icon 2 minute read

AFP reports that the study, led by Evgeny Nudler, professor of biochemistry at New York University Langone Medical Center, and published in Science magazine, provides evidence that nitric oxide is able to alleviate stress in bacteria caused by many antibiotics and helps it neutralise many antibacterial compounds.

"Developing new medications to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria is a huge hurdle, associated with great cost and countless safety issues," Professor Nudler said in a statement.

"Here, we have a short cut, where we don't have to invent new antibiotics. Instead, we can enhance the activity of well established ones, making them more effective at lower doses."

Nitric oxide was initially known as a toxic gas and air pollutant until 1987 when a study that won a Nobel Prize showed that it played a physiological role in mammals, according to AFP.

According to Professor Nudler's paper, bacterial nitric oxide synthases (bNOS) are present in many Gram-positive species and have been demonstrated to synthesise nitric oxide from arginine in vitro and in vivo. However, the physiological role of bNOS remains largely unknown.

He and his co-workers show that nitric oxide generated by bNOS increases the resistance of bacteria to a broad spectrum of antibiotics, enabling the bacteria to survive and share habitats with antibiotic-producing microorganisms.

Nitric oxide-mediated resistance is achieved through both the chemical modification of toxic compounds and the alleviation of the oxidative stress imposed by many antibiotics.

Professor Nudler says the results suggest that the inhibition of NOS activity may increase the effectiveness of antimicrobial therapy.


Gusarov, I., K. Shatalin, M. Starodubtseva and E. Nudler. 2009. Endogenous nitric oxide protects bacteria against a wide spectrum of antibiotics. Science, 325 (5946): 1380-1384. DOI: 10.1126/science.1175439

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