Researchers contribute to study on possible alternative treatment for Lyme disease

As if COVID and RSV weren’t serious enough, incidents of Lyme disease – a potentially serious illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted as a result of a bite from an infected deer tick – are also on the horizon. increase in the United States, including Oklahoma.

Lyme disease affects approximately 300,000 people in the United States alone. Both humans and animals can become infected with B. burgdorferi from the bite of an infected deer tick, also known as a blacklegged tick. About 80% of people who get the disease will develop a rash (erythema migrans) around or near the bite site three to 30 days after the bite.

Although early antibiotic treatment is effective for most patients, around 10-20% of patients continue to experience symptoms which may include fatigue, muscle pain, and cognitive impairment for more than six months after treatment. The importance of this debilitating disease has recently been highlighted by a very similar set of symptoms in patients with “Long COVID.” “

The October 2021 issue of the journal Cell presents a paper titled “A Selective Antibiotic for Lyme Disease” on a new antibiotic developed by a team at Northeastern University in Boston led by Kim Lewis, distinguished professor of biology at the University, which draws on research from the University of Oklahoma. The new antibiotic may not only work to cure Lyme disease, but may also help eradicate its occurrence in the environment.

OU researchers who have helped to understand why this antibiotic is specific to this pathogen are Helen I. Zgurskaya, Professor George Lynn Cross, Inga Leus, Research Assistant Professor, and Vincent Bonifay, Postdoctoral Research Associate, all in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences. Zgurskaya is also a member of the department Antibiotic Discovery and Resistance Center, whose objective is to study the mechanisms of drug resistance in bacteria and to develop new approaches and antibiotics effective against drug-resistant pathogens.

Antibiotics currently used to treat Lyme disease are broad spectrum with significant effects on the human gut microbiome and the potential for increased resistance in non-target bacteria, Zgurskaya explained, adding that the team was looking to identify a compound acting with a narrower spectrum of activity against B. burgdorferi.

“Screening for soil microorganisms revealed a compound that is highly selective against spirochetes, including B. burgdorferi. Unexpectedly, this compound appeared to be hygromycin A, a known antimicrobial produced by Streptomyces hygroscopicus, ”Zgurskaya said. “Hygromycin A targets ribosomes and its selectivity was a mystery. Our data have shown that this antibiotic is efficiently absorbed by B. burgdorferi, explaining its selectivity. Hygromycin A cleared B. burgdorferi infection in mice, including animals that ingested the compound in a bait, and disrupted the fecal microbiome less than clinically relevant antibiotics. This selective antibiotic holds the promise of providing better therapy for treating Lyme disease and eradicating it from the environment.

“The Dodge Family College of Arts of Sciences recognizes Helen I. Zgurskaya, Inga Leus and Vincent Bonifay of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for their important work in helping provide treatment to the hundreds of thousands of patients diagnosed with this disease each year. “Said David M. Wrobel, Dean.” This is an exciting example of how our faculty is playing a pivotal role in advancing positive health outcomes globally, which is fundamental to the OU research mission.

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