cranberry juice
Diet & Nutrition

Compounds in Cranberry Juice Help Prevent Bacterial Infections

Illuminating traditional wisdom with chemistry and biophysics, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has characterized the role of compounds in cranberry juice that block the critical first step in bacterial infections. The results open a potential new area of focus for antibiotic drug development.

A release from WPI notes that the research team, led by Terri Camesano, PhD, professor of chemical engineering and dean of graduate studies at WPI, and Catherine Neto, PhD, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry at UMass Dartmouth, published their findings in July 2016 in The Royal Society of Chemistry journal Food & Function.

The release quotes Camesano as saying, “With the emergence of new superbugs that are resistant to current antibiotics, our hope is to better understand the mechanisms of bacterial infection so we can identify potential new antibiotic drug targets.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at least 2 million Americans are infected each year with drug-resistant bacteria, while some 23,000 die from those infections. To cause an infection, bacteria must first adhere to a host and accumulate in sufficient numbers to form a biofilm. In the new paper, the team reports that compounds in cranberry juice called flavonols greatly reduced the ability of the bacteria E.coli to stick to a surface (various strains of E. coli are responsible for many types of infections, including those of the urinary tract.)

Previous work by Camesano, Neto, and others has shown that a group of compounds called proanthocyanidins (PACs) likely play a role in cranberry juice’s ability to block bacterial adhesion. In the new study, Neto’s team used advanced chemical techniques to separate or “fractionate” cranberry juice into its constituent chemical compounds and characterize them. Then at WPI, Camesano’s team cultured E.coli cells in samples of the fractionated juice and used an atomic force microscope to measure the bacteria’s ability to bond to a surface. “This study is the first to combine an assay-guided fractionation approach with atomic force microscopy to identify cranberry juice constituents that most strongly influence E.coli adhesion forces,” the authors wrote.

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