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Scientists Discover Genetic Make-up of Acne Bacterium

Scientists have long known that the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) plays a leading role in the development of acne vulgaris, the scourge afflicting some 80% of teenagers and many adults as well. A normally harmless microbe that lives in the hair follicles of every person, P. acnes helps cause acne when the follicles become plugged with sebum, a natural oil produced by the body.

Recently a team of German scientists, led by microbiologist Dr. Holger Brueggemann, mapped the genetic code of the P. acnes microbe. They discovered that it has a circular chromosome with 2,333 genes, many of which had surprising destructive abilities. "We were astonished to see how many genes were involved in degrading the human tissue," said Dr. Brueggemann.

For example, the researchers found that P. acnes contains enzymes similar to those in so-called "flesh-eating" bacteria that destroy human tissue. It also has enzymes that break down the skin and use it as its food supply. It contains genes that secrete substances that kill competitors, like harmful bacteria and fungi, in much the same manner as pathogens like tuberculosis and diphtheria. And it uses a defense tactic known as "phase variation" that helps it escape attack by the human immune system.

New Acne Treatments May Be Possible

What does this mean for acne sufferers?

Scientists have long believed that acne results when pores become plugged by bits of dead, flaking skin and sebum. These plugged pores fill with oil, which the P. acnes microbe then feeds on while releasing certain chemicals and enzymes. These enzymes attract white blood cells, causing inflammation, redness and pimples we call acne. Adolescents are more often afflicted by acne because during that age period more of this oil is produced, thanks to hormonal changes in the body at that time.

Most traditional acne treatments today are designed to either kill bacteria or to prevent pores from becoming plugged. However, P. acnes has developed resistance to many of the antibiotics used to treat acne, leading scientist to seek newer, more effective treatments.

This new discovery by Dr. Brueggemann's research team will lead to a better understanding of the P. acnes bacterium and how it operates in causing or aiding the outbreak of acne. This knowledge may well lead to new approaches to treating acne by better targetting the enzyme systems of P. acnes and relieving the pain and suffering of teens and adults with acne.

 

Source: Diane Darling

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