Challenges and opportunities for cheat therapy in the control of bacterial infections
Covering: 1999 to 2021
Bacterial pathogens can be highly social, communicating and cooperating within multi-cellular groups to make us sick. The requirement for collective action in pathogens presents novel therapeutic avenues that seek to undermine cooperative behavior, what we call here ‘cheat therapies’. We review two broad avenues of cheat therapy: first, the introduction of genetically engineered ‘cheat’ strains (bio-control cheats), and second the chemical induction of ‘cheat’ behavior in the infecting pathogens (chemical-control cheats). Both genetically engineered and chemically induced cheats can socially exploit the cooperative wildtype infection, reducing pathogen burden and the severity of disease. We review the costs and benefits of cheat therapies, highlighting advantages of evolutionary robustness and also the challenges of low to moderate efficacy, compared to conventional antibiotic treatments. We end with a summary of what we see as the most valuable next steps, focusing on adjuvant treatments and use as alternate therapies for mild, self-resolving infections – allowing the reservation of current and highly effective antibiotics for more critical patient needs.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Chemical Ecology of Microbial Symbioses