Tag: pneumonia

Breathing New Life into Old Antibiotics

Source: Pixabay CC0

Scientists may have hit upon a way to make frontline antibiotics once again effective against the deadly bacteria that cause pneumonia.

The international team originally developed this as a potential treatment for disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases to break bacterial resistance to commonly used frontline antibiotics.

Led by University of Melbourne Professor Christopher McDevitt, this discovery may see the comeback of readily available and cheap antibiotics, such as penicillin and ampicillin, as effective weapons in the fight against the rapidly rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

In a paper published in Cell Reports, Prof McDevitt and colleagues described how they discovered a way to break bacterial drug resistance and then developed a therapeutic approach to rescue the use of the antibiotic ampicillin to treat drug-resistant bacterial pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae in a mouse model of infection.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last year named antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to global health, food security, and development. Rising numbers of bacterial infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics lose effectiveness against them.

Prof McDevitt’s prior work on bacterial antibiotic resistance using zinc ionophores led to collaborations with University of Queensland’s Professor Mark Walker and Griffith University’s Professor Mark von Itzstein from the Institute for Glycomics.

“We knew that some ionophores, such as PBT2, had been through clinical trials and shown to be safe for use in humans,” Prof von Itzstein said.

Prof Walker said that “as a group, we realised that if we could repurpose these safe molecules to break bacterial resistance and restore antibiotic efficacy, this would be a pathway to a therapeutic treatment. What we had to do was show whether PBT2 broke bacterial resistance to antibiotic treatment without leading to even greater drug resistance.”

“We focused on bacterial pneumonia and the most commonly used antibiotics. We thought that if we could rescue frontline antibiotics and restore their use for treating common infections, this would solve a global problem,” Prof McDevitt added.

An important component was the research from Prof McDevitt’s group that led to making the treatment effective.

“We knew from earlier research that the immune system uses zinc as an innate antimicrobial to fight off infection. So, we developed our therapeutic approach with PBT2 to use the body’s antimicrobial zinc to break antibiotic resistance in the invading bacteria,” he said.

“This rendered the drug-resistant bacteria susceptible to the antibiotic ampicillin, restoring the effectiveness of the antibiotic treatment in the infected animals.”

Collecting the data required for a clinical trial of PBT2 in combination with antibiotics is the next step, said Prof McDevitt.

“We also want to find other antibiotic-PBT2 combinations that have therapeutic potential for treatment of other bacterial infections,” he said.

“Our work shows that this simple combination therapy is safe, but the combinations require testing in clinical trials. What we need now is to move forward with further testing and pharmacology.”

Source: University of Melbourne

Bacterial Superinfections in COVID Rarer Than Expected

Only 21 percent of patients with severe pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2 have a documented bacterial superinfection at the time of intubation, resulting in potential overuse of antibiotics, according to new research.

Superinfection occurs when another, usually different, infection is superimposed on the initial infection. In this case, it is bacterial pneumonia during severe viral pneumonia.

Dr Wunderink and co-authors reported their findings in a study published online in the Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, which shows that the usual clinical criteria used to diagnose bacterial pneumonia could not distinguish between those with bacterial superinfection and those with severe SARS-CoV-2 infection only.

According to the authors, there is weak evidence behind current guidelines recommending that patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia receive empirical antibiotics on hospital admission for suspected bacterial superinfection. In other published clinical trials of patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia, rates of superinfection pneumonia are unexpectedly low.
“More accurate assessment other than just reviewing clinical parameters is needed to enable clinicians to avoid using antibiotics in the majority of these patients, but appropriately use antibiotics in the 20-25 percent who have a bacterial infection as well,” said Dr Wunderink.

The team conducted an observational study to determine the prevalence and cause of bacterial superinfection at the time of initial intubation and the incidence and cause of subsequent bacterial ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) in 179 patients with severe SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia which required mechanical ventilation.

The researchers analysed 386 bronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from patients, and actual antibiotic use was compared with guideline-recommended therapy. Bacterial superinfection within 48 hours of intubation was detected in 21 percent of patients; 72 patients (44.4 percent) developed at least one VAP episode; and 15 (20.8 percent) of initial VAPs were caused by difficult-to-treat bacteria.

The authors found that in patients with severe SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia, bacterial superinfection at the time of intubation occurred in less than 25 percent of patients. Guideline-based empirical antibiotic management at the time of intubation would have resulted in antibiotic overuse.

The researchers believe that their findings have multiple implications for antibiotic guidelines: “Rapid diagnostic tests are important for helping identify suspected pneumonia in intubated patients. This can have major clinical implications because the current approach of using clinically defined risk factors for suspected methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or pseudomonas bacteria as the cause of pneumonia still grossly overestimate the true incidence of these pathogens. In addition, the recommendation for empirical antibiotic treatment of worsening viral community-acquired pneumonia (now requiring intubation) may need to be revisited. This is not only true for SARS-CoV-2 but potentially for severe influenza as well.”

“An accurate diagnosis of suspected pneumonia allows clinicians to safely avoid or use narrow spectrum antibiotics for many patients,” Dr Wunderink added.  “While multiple interventions impact mortality in these critically ill patients, the low mortality in our study with more limited antibiotic treatment suggests that our approach was safe.”

Source: American Thoracic Society

Double Threat of Flu and S. Pneumoniae Unravelled

Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Image by CDC on Unsplash

Researchers have found a further reason for why flu and Streptococcus pneumonia are such a deadly combination, by a surface protein causing it to stick to dead or dying lung cells. The finding by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) follows thirty years after the discovery of the surface protein, called pneumococcal surface protein A, or PspA.

This new mechanism had been overlooked because it facilitates bacterial adherence only to dead or dying lung epithelial cells, not to living cells. Previously, researchers typically used healthy lung cell monolayers to search for bacterial adhesins that aid infection. In flu, the virus killing off lung cells was found to set the stage for S. pneumonia attachment to the airway, thereby worsening disease and pneumonia.

Study leaders Carlos Orihuela, PhD, and David Briles, PhD, professor at UAB, said their findings provide further explanation for how an infection by influenza A flu virus — followed by S. pneumoniae superinfection — causes severe pneumonia and a high death rate. Understanding of this mechanism could also lead to improvements for disease treatment and vaccination.

A historical example of the deadly synergy of flu infection followed by S. pneumoniae superinfection is found in banked lung samples from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic that killed 40 million to 50 million people — the vast majority of these samples showed co-infection or secondary infection with S. pneumonia.

The UAB research on PspA began with puzzling results from experimental lung infections of mice with influenza A, followed by either wild-type S. pneumonia that has the intact PspA gene, or a mutant S. pneumoniae that lacks PspA. Lung homogenates from mice infected with the wild-type had much higher numbers of S. pneumonia bacteria than lungs infected with the mutant. However, when researchers washed the interiors of the lungs and collected that bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, they counted similar numbers of the wild-type S. pneumonia and the mutant.

“This unexpected result was interpreted to mean that wild-type S. pneumoniae were more resistant to dislodgement than S. pneumonia with a pspA gene deletion, and it served as rationale for further experimentation,” Dr Orihuela said.

From this, the researchers were then able to show that PspA functions as an adhesin to dying host cells, as well as its previously established virulence mechanisms. The researchers also detailed the molecular mechanism of this bacterial adherence.

Both influenza A infection and release of the S. pneumoniae toxin pneumolysin cause death of lung epithelial cells. As they are dying, cells’ phosphatidylserine residues wind up on the outer cell membrane, where they bind the host enzyme glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, or GAPDH. In turn, the S. pneumoniae PspA on the bacteria surface binds to the GAPDH. PspA-GAPDH-mediated binding to lung cells increased S. pneumoniae localisation in the lower airway, and this was enhanced by pneumolysin exposure or co-infection with influenza A virus.

One of the fragments of protein responsible for the binding was introduced into the lungs of influenza-infected mice and reduced the disease severity of S. pneumoniae superinfection, presumably through binding competition.

“Our findings support the targeting of regions of PspA for therapeutic and vaccine development against influenza A/Streptococcus pneumoniae superinfections,” Dr Orihuela said. “Importantly, and despite more than 30 years since its discovery, PspA was not previously shown to function as an adhesin. Thus, our finding of PspA’s role in adherence substantially advances our knowledge on the interactions of S. pneumoniae with its host.”

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Journal information: Sang-Sang Park et al, Streptococcus pneumoniae binds to host GAPDH on dying lung epithelial cells worsening secondary infection following influenza, Cell Reports (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109267