• A study recently published in the journal

    Cell

     highlights the potential of hygromycin A, an antibiotic that could be a targeted treatment for Lyme disease.

  • According to the American researchers who carried out this work, this antibiotic could even make it possible to eradicate from nature this disease transmitted by infected ticks.

  • A discovery to be taken with caution, but which is hopeful.

Could a world without Lyme disease be possible?

This is the hope of a team of researchers from the American University of Northeastern in Boston, who believe they have found a targeted treatment against this disease - also called "Lyme borreliosis" - which is contracted by tick bite. infected with the bacteria 

Borrelia burgdorferi

.

Scientists have rediscovered a forgotten antibiotic, hygromycin A, which, according to the conclusions of their study published in early October in the American journal

Cell

, would eliminate the infection without the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Even more, this molecule could even, according to them, be used to eradicate Lyme disease from the face of the globe.

So, a therapeutic revolution in perspective or a sensationalist announcement?

An antibiotic known since the 1950s

If hygromycin A doesn't mean much to the general public, it's not because it's a new antimicrobial.

This antibiotic was discovered in the 1950s, before falling into oblivion.

Why ?

Because "its action against a wide variety of bacteria is quite weak," said Professor Kim Lewis, lead author of the study and director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at the University of Northeastern.

To carry out this work, the researchers screened microorganisms present in the soil, and thus rediscovered hygromycin A, an antimicrobial produced by the bacterium

 Steptomyces hygroscopicus.

. However, "hygromycin A has been shown to be very active and selective against spirochetes". "Spirochetes are spiral-shaped germs, it is the family of bacteria to which

Borrelia 

belongs

", decrypts Benjamin Davido, infectious disease specialist at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches (Hauts de Seine).

To study the action of hygromycin A, Kim Lewis' team conducted laboratory tests.

And this molecule "effectively eliminates infection in mice by oral administration, with minimal effect on the gut microbiome," concludes the professor.

These properties make hygromycin A an attractive candidate for the development of an antibiotic for the targeted treatment of Lyme disease ”.

An effective targeted treatment which, unlike broad-spectrum antibiotic treatments, would not cause antibiotic resistance, say the scientists.

Eradicate Lyme Borreliosis from Nature

But the virtues of this treatment would not stop there. The authors of the study believe that their discovery “opens up the interesting possibility of eradicating this pathogen from the environment”. However, the researchers point out "the increase in the incidence and the geographical extent of Lyme disease" in recent years, in particular due to "the expansion of the range of the habitat of the tick to vector, the growing intersection of human homes and animal tick hosts, and seasonal activity due to climate change ”. In short: there are more and more ticks, which are making more and more sick.

In practice, researchers imagine spreading hygromycin A in nature, through baits that would then be ingested by ticks.

"With its limited activity against non-spirochete organisms, it would constitute an ideal target antibiotic against the reservoir of this bacterium", estimate the authors of the study.

In France alone, around 50,000 people contract Lyme disease each year, according to epidemiological data from Public Health France, which specifies that “in 2019, 893 cases of Lyme borreliosis were hospitalized in France”.

And Alsace is one of the regions where ticks are most present, and where the incidence of Lyme disease is one of the highest in France.

"It's promising, but be careful not to get carried away"

“This study is promising, but be careful not to get carried away by a sensationalist announcement, the metabolism of mice and that of humans are different, warns Benjamin Davido. First, effective antibiotic treatments have been available for many years against the disease, when the diagnosis is made soon after the bite. The problem relates to the chronic forms which set in without a diagnosis, and which can cause partial paralysis, nervous reactions or even joint pain. In this case, like the long Covid, it is probably no longer an infectious problem: the bacteria - or the virus - is no longer present in the body, but symptoms persist over the long term. "In this case," the antibiotics are therefore ineffective,but that has nothing to do with antibiotic resistance, it is more a problem of the reaction of the immune system than of treating the disease ”.

As for the eradication of Lyme disease, "less than a third of ticks are carriers of

B

orrelia

 ", tempers Benjamin Davido.

However, “if research made it possible to clean an ecosystem carrying infectious microorganisms by emptying its reservoir, it would be good news in the field of the fight against zoonoses (these diseases born from contact between animals and humans, like Lyme or Covid-19), continues Dr. Davido.

And the work of these researchers will be all the more hopeful if hygromycin A proves effective on other spirochete diseases such as syphilis, which is on the rise and which is difficult to treat when faced. to late latent forms ”.

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