The Pharmacology of Antibiotics

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Have you ever wondered how antibiotics help you recover from bacterial infections? It's not magic, it's an actual process. This lesson goes over several examples of some of the pharmacology behind many groups of antibiotics.

What Are Antibiotics?

Pneumonia, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, sepsis, dermatitis, osteomyelitis, and much more. What do they all have in common? They can all be caused by microorganisms known as bacteria. Many of these diseases can kill us. So how do we prevent these bacteria from destroying us? We use antibiotics, drugs that target bacteria. Let's find out more about the pharmacology of antibiotics.

General Pharmacology

When hackers design computer viruses, they don't all create the same virus. Some viruses attack via e-mail or a bad script on a web page. Others infect computers via software that is downloaded online or through the transfer of a file via a USB stick. Then, when the viruses enter the computer, they all have a wide variety of ways of wreaking havoc. Some send endless pop-ups. Others collect data and pass it on to cybercriminals. Others still mess with the computer's hardware and crash it. Viruses are weapons and they have a wide variety of means of doing ''their job''.

Antibiotics are no different. Except antibiotics wreak havoc on bacteria, not on computers. Some antibiotics simply inhibit the growth of bacteria. This allows the body's defense forces to kill the remaining bacteria without having to worry about bacterial reinforcements being constantly born. Other antibiotics directly kill many different bacteria, including potentially beneficial ones, much like unguided bombs dropped from planes do. There are antibiotics that are more or less designed to target specific kinds of bacteria. Meaning, they work better against one general kind or even specific strain of bacteria than they do against another. Look at them more as precision-guided bombs than unguided bombs.

Specific Pharmacology

But enough of the general pharmacology of antibiotics. Let's actually go over some examples of the specific mechanisms by which some antibiotics inhibit or kill bacteria.

Penicillins are a general group of antibiotics of the beta-lactam class. They are bactericidal, which means they kill bacteria. The suffix -cidal means to kill. Penicillins kill by inhibiting cell wall synthesis. This means they prevent the bacterial cells from defending themselves by inhibiting the ability of these bacteria to build an important defensive wall.

There are plenty more types of antibiotics than the well-known penicillins, of course. For example, aminoglycosides are a kind of antibiotic class that inhibits protein synthesis. Aminoglycosides, like penicillins, are also bactericidal. As you just learned, they kill bacteria by inhibiting protein synthesis. What does this mean? Bacteria produce proteins in order to survive. This is much like countries manufacture goods in order to have a good economy and survive. If we disable the bacteria's ability to produce these important goods, they die.

Like aminoglycosides, tetracyclines are antibiotics that inhibit protein synthesis. However, unlike aminoglycosides, they are bacteriostatic. This means they disable the ability of bacteria to reproduce but they don't kill the bacteria directly. If the bacteria can't reproduce and make more bacteria, the remaining bacteria eventually die of old age or the body's defense mechanisms kill them, and thus things tend to get better.

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