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Cystitis Discovery May Lead to New Treatments


Researchers have discovered interactions that result in cystitis, a bladder infection caused by Escherichia coli bacteria that affects one-third of women at least once during their lives. This discovery may lead to new treatments for cystitis and other urinary tract infections.

Antibiotics are current treatment for cystitis

Cystitis is just one type of urinary tract infection (UTI), conditions that have different names depending on the part of the urinary tract that is affected. Therefore, cystitis is a bladder infection, pyelonephritis is a kidney infection, and urethritis is an infection of the tube (urethra) that empties urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and then the bladder. If the bladder becomes infected (cystitis), it can spread to the kidneys. Women tend to get more UTIs because their urethra is shorter and closer to the anus, a source of bacteria.

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In cystitis, bacteria attach themselves onto the wall of the bladder via thread-like formations called pili. Han Remaut of the VIB Department for Structural Biology Brussels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, together with colleagues from the University of London, have uncovered the interactions that result in the formation of pili.

Using X-ray diffraction, the researchers have successfully imaged the complex structure that leads to the biosynthesis of pili. Specifically, they have looked at type 1 pili, which are responsible for the uropathogenic E. coli binding to the host cells. This makes type 1 pili potential targets for new treatments.

Currently, a host of antibiotics are used to treat cystitis and other UTIs. However, the existing antibiotics are not as effective as they once were, and recurrent infections are especially difficult to treat. Therefore new antibiotics are needed.

The discovery reported in this new study “can form the basis for the development of medicines which block the formation of the pili,” and thus help fight cystitis and other UTIs. The authors note that because other bacteria also use the same mechanism that E. coli use to attach to the bladder, their discovery may also help fight other infectious diseases such as traveler’s diarrhea.

Phan G et al. Nature 2011 Jun; 474: 49-53