November 2011

Targeting tuberculosis

Talks to cover what we know about molecular details of host-pathogen relationship and how the bacterium is affected by our attempts to stop its spread  

Meetings_TBTuberculosis kills between 2 million and 3 million people each year and continues to be a major global health concern. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the etiologic agent responsible, is an obligate human pathogen that has infected mankind since the dawn of time. The emergence of highly drug-resistant forms of the disease threatens to completely undermine disease-control efforts and even may be shifting the fundamental pathobiology of the host-pathogen relationship.

The community of scientists engaged in studying this deadly disease has made dramatic advances in understanding the biology and biochemistry of this deadly pathogen, but many important details are only now starting to be appreciated. These three symposia in the tuberculosis theme will bring together diverse speakers struggling to understand the molecular details of the host-pathogen relationship and how the bacterium may be adapting to human attempts to bring the disease under control. The subjects were chosen so that the three symposia build upon each other by providing state-of-the-art lectures covering our understanding of the in vivo biochemistry, how it drives the host-pathogen relationship and how this relationship may be changing as new strains of the bacterium adjust.

In vivo biochemistry of the pathogen 

The first session, chaired by Squire J. Booker (The State University of Pennsylvania), will provide an overview of the adaptations that M. tuberculosis makes to survive in the challenging environment of the human lung. The bacterium faces many obstacles to replication in the face of the human immune response, obstacles that have driven unusual and distinct biochemical adaptations.

A lecture by Valerie Mizrahi (University of Cape Town), titled “Mechanisms of DNA Repair and Mutagenesis in M. Tuberculosis,” will describe her laboratory’s contributions to the understanding of the complex systems of DNA repair that have evolved in response to the need to maintain the integrity of this molecule in the face of both the organism’s exceedingly long generation time and the continuous oxidative and nitrosative stress challenges mounted by the host immune system.

William R. Jacobs (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) will describe his lab’s efforts to understand the biochemical details of cell-envelope construction – essential for understanding the mechanism of antitubercular drugs and in the construction of new vaccines. Jacobs’ group made a particularly important contribution to understanding transport of one of the most important of the disaccharides used in cell wall biogenesis, trehalose.

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