Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Solving mystery of how sulfa drugs kill bacteria yields 21st century drug development target

02.03.2012
More than 70 years after the first sulfa drugs helped to revolutionize medical care and save millions of lives, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have determined at an atomic level the mechanism these medications use to kill bacteria. The discovery provides the basis for a new generation of antibiotics that would likely be harder for bacteria to resist and cause fewer side effects.

The work focused on sulfa drugs and their target enzyme, dihydropteroate synthase (DHPS). Most disease-causing microorganisms need DHPS to help make the molecule folate, which is required for the production of DNA and some amino acids. Working with enzymes from gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, researchers used a variety of techniques to determine for the first time the key intermediate structure DHPS forms during the chemical reaction to advance folate production. The structure also explains at a molecular level how sulfa drugs function and how resistance causing mutations help bacteria withstand them.

The findings mark a major advance in both microbial biochemistry and anti-microbial drug discovery. The study is published in the March 2 issue of the journal Science.

“The structure we found was totally unexpected and really opens the door for us and others to design a new class of inhibitors targeting DHPS that will help us avoid side effects and other problems associated with sulfa drugs,” said Stephen White, Ph.D., chair of the St. Jude Department of Structural Biology and the paper’s corresponding author.

Co-author Richard Lee, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics, added: “Now we want to leverage this information to develop drugs against the opportunistic infections that threaten so many St. Jude patients.”

Sulfa drugs were discovered in the 1930s and became the first antibiotic in widespread use. Although the drugs were early victims of antibiotic resistance, they are still widely used against emerging infectious diseases and to prevent infections in patients with weakened immune systems, including St. Jude patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy. The growing problem of antibiotic resistance has prompted renewed interest in sulfa drugs as a possible source of new therapeutic targets, Lee said.

Previous work had shown that sulfa drugs target DHPS and work by mimicking a molecule called pABA. DHPS advances folate production by accelerating the fusion of pABA and another molecule called dihydropteridine pyrophosphate (DHPP). Until now, however, scientists did not know exactly how the DHPS reaction occurred or how sulfa drugs disrupted the process.

Working on enzymes from gram-positive Bacillus anthracis and gram-negative Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that cause anthrax and plague, researchers first used computational methods to predict the enzyme’s activity. Next they used a technique called X-ray crystallography to capture the unfolding chemical reaction and confirm the prediction. X-ray crystallography involves bombarding proteins trapped in crystals with X-rays to determine the protein structure.

Researchers showed that DHPP binds to a specific pocket in DHPS. Aided by magnesium, the binding promotes the break-up of DHPP and release of pyrophosphate. Two long flexible loops then create an intermediate structure that sets the stage for pABA to enter and bind in a second short-lived pocket, allowing pABA to fuse with the cleaved DHPP. Investigators captured all four actors in the drama in a single crystal structure, including the intermediate cleaved DHPP molecule whose existence was previously unknown.

The results showed that the mechanism involves a chemical reaction known as an Sn1 reaction rather than the anticipated Sn2 reaction. “This is a key finding for drug discovery because it reveals chemical features of the DHPS enzyme’s active site that we can exploit in developing new drugs,” said study co-author Donald Bashford, Ph.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Structural Biology.

The study also provided insights into sulfa drug resistance. Investigators showed that the binding sites of pABA and the sulfa drugs overlap, but that sulfa drugs extend beyond the pocket in which pABA binds. Mutations associated with drug resistance cluster around this extended region of the pABA pocket, which explains how mutations can prevent the drugs from binding without seriously affecting the binding of pABA. The work also highlights the transitory structure made by the two DHPS loops as a target for a new class of drugs that would be difficult for bacteria to develop resistance against.

“When we set out on this project eight years ago, a goal was to truly understand the catalytic mechanism of the DHPS protein and how the inhibitors targeting it work. I am ecstatic we’ve succeeded,” Lee said. The success grew out of an interdisciplinary effort and some luck, White said. The plague enzyme turned out to be well suited to this project. Unlike the DHPS enzymes from other bacteria, the two extended loops are free to form the short-lived structure and the pABA pocket when the enzyme is immobilized in the crystal.

The study’s first authors are Mi-Kyung Yun of St. Jude and Yinan Wu, a University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center graduate student working in White’s laboratory. The other authors are Zhenmei Li, Ying Zhao, M. Brett Waddell and Antonio Ferreira, all of St. Jude.

The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and ALSAC.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Since opening 50 years ago, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has changed the way the world treats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. No family ever pays St. Jude for the care their child receives and, for every child treated here, thousands more has been saved worldwide through St. Jude discoveries. The hospital has played a pivotal role in pushing U.S. pediatric cancer survival rates from 20 to 80 percent overall, and is the first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. It is also a leader in the research and treatment of blood disorders and infectious diseases in children. St. Jude was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, who believed that no child should die in the dawn of life. To learn more, visit www.stjude.org. Follow us on Twitter @StJudeResearch.

St. Jude Media Relations Contacts

Summer Freeman
(desk) (901) 595-3061
(cell) (901) 297-9861
summer.freeman@stjude.org

Carrie Strehlau
(desk) (901) 595-2295
(cell) (901) 297-9875
carrie.strehlau@stjude.org

Carrie Strehlau | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stjude.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>