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Farnesol: A Disarming Molecule

Could the active ingredient in Chanel No. 5 help defeat drug-resistant pathogens?

By Linda Keslar // The MGH Research Issue 2011
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candida albicans

Courtesy Eleftherios Mylonakis

candida albicans

Courtesy Eleftherios Mylonakis

What could persuade the fungus Candida albicans, which can cause life-threatening infections, not to form the filaments (visible in the image at top left) that harm its host? The answer is farnesol—which also happens to be an active ingredient in Chanel No. 5, the world’s most popular perfume. The fungus secretes molecules of farnesol to communicate with other Candida cells, and possibly to warn of the presence of Acinetobacter baumannii, which attacks by latching onto Candida’s filaments. A. baumannii, a highly drug-resistant strain of bacteria that can cause a range of problems, has been showing up with increasing frequency on hospital walls and floors and patient catheters. A team led by MGH infectious disease researcher Eleftherios Mylonakis made these discoveries, and ultimately aims to develop a clinical application that harnesses fungal-bacterial interactions to disarm drug-resistant pathogens.

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