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Quick Uptakes
September 23/30, 1998

Bacterial Defense Uncovered

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JAMA. 1998;280(12):1041. doi:10.1001/jama.280.12.1041-JQU80006-3-1

The discovery of an important mechanism that bacteria use to protect themselves against the onslaught of the human immune system could pave the way for the development of new antibiotics.

A study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described how flavohemoglobin, a bacterial protein, detoxifies nitric oxide that the immune system produces to help kill disease-causing microorganisms. "Bacteria vary enormously in their ability to defend themselves against nitric oxide," said Andrew Salzman, MD, of Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati and a coauthor of the study. "But if you remove this protein from bacteria, you can kill them with almost nothing. They're exquisitely sensitive to nitric oxide."

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