Methicillin-​​resistant Staphy­lo­coccus aureus (MRSA) is a bac­terium that is resis­tant to many antibi­otics. It is respon­sible for sev­eral chronic infec­tions such as osteomyelitis, endo­carditis, or infec­tions of implanted med­ical devices. These infec­tions are often incur­able, even when appro­priate antibi­otics are used.

Senior author of the study, Prof Kim Lewis of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, sus­pected that a dif­ferent adap­tive func­tion of bac­teria might be the true cul­prit in making these infec­tions so devastating.

The study rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of more than a decade of research on a spe­cial­ized class of cells pro­duced by all pathogens called persisters.

These cells evolved to sur­vive. Sur­vival is their only func­tion. They don’t do any­thing else,” Prof Lewis said.

Prof Lewis and his col­leagues posited that if they could kill these expert sur­vivors, per­haps they could cure chronic infections.

They have found that per­sis­ters achieve their sin­gular goal by entering a dor­mant state that makes them imper­vious to tra­di­tional antibi­otics. Since these drugs work by tar­geting active cel­lular func­tions, they are use­less against dor­mant per­sis­ters, which aren’t active at all. For this reason, per­sis­ters are crit­ical to the suc­cess of chronic infec­tions and biofilms, because as soon as a treat­ment runs its course, their reawak­ening allows for the infec­tion to estab­lish itself anew.

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