Scientists have identified a key enzyme responsible for destroying lung tissue in tuberculosis (TB), a finding that could lead to new treatments. The new research shows that in patients with TB, there is an increase in levels of an enzyme called MMP-1 in their lungs. When the researchers infected human immune cells with TB in the lab, they found that the cells greatly increased production of this enzyme.

Since the mouse version of MMP-1 is not expressed in the lung, the researchers developed a transgenic mouse with human MMP-1 to investigate whether the enzyme causes lung damage in TB. When these mice were infected with TB, MMP-1 levels increased significantly and the infection led to lung damage similar to that seen in humans with TB.

The scientists also found that a drug proven to be safe in humans was effective at suppressing MMP-1 activity driven by TB infection in human cells.

The findings suggest that similar drugs might prevent lung damage in TB patients and help limit the spread of the disease.

The study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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