Keep your enemies close: how TB bacterium tricks the immune system
Tuberculosis TB Mtb

Keep your enemies close: how TB bacterium tricks the immune system

Jeffrey Buter
Jeffrey Buter

In 10 seconds? It’s a curable disease but its pathogen can lay dormant in human hosts for decades – scientists are discovering new ways, how the tuberculosis-causing Mtb bacterium can outplay the immune system, suggesting new drug targets.

What’s the discovery? Different teams have identified different mechanisms of how Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb, dubbed the world’s deadliest bacterium) manages to survive in infected people. One discovery is a new finding by the American team that identified in 2005 Mtb’s ‘virulence factor’ – a protein that the bacterium uses to resist the toxins our immune throws at it. In 2021 the team found that the bacterium uses a signalling system to detect nitric oxide, copper and zinc that macrophages (the immune cells tasked with digesting foreign invaders) deploy against them. This alert system is similar to what cancer cells use to avoid and adapt to immune responses, so the finding may be relevant to cancer research.

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