South African tree may treat TB in new way

Tony Maxwell

A compound from the South African toothbrush tree inactivates a tuberculosis drug target in a previously unknown way, presenting a potential antibiotic to treat the deadly disease.

The compound, known as diospyrin, binds to a novel site on DNA gyrase, an enzyme that is essential for bacteria and plants but is not present in humans or animals. The target is established as a safe and effective target for drugs, Science Daily reports.

“The way that diospyrin works helps to explain why it is effective against drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis,” Tony Maxwell, a professor from the John Innes Center in the United Kingdom, said, according to Science Daily.

The antibacterial properties of the tree are already used for oral health and medical complaints like pleurisy, venereal disease and bronchitis. The tree gets its toothbrush name because twigs from the tree are traditionally used as toothbrushes.

Antibiotics derived from plants are uncommon but they have great potential as sources of new medicines.

“Extracts from plants used in traditional medicine provide a source for novel compounds that may have antibacterial properties, which may then be developed as antibiotics,” Maxwell said, according to Science Daily. “This highlights the value of ethnobotany and the value of maintaining biodiversity to help us address global problems.”

Maxwell is working with other European researchers as part of the More Medicines for Tuberculosis consortium. MM4TB is working on diospyrin and related naphthoquinone compounds through its 25 labs in an effort to develop new drugs for TB, Science Daily reports.

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