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Solving mystery of how sulfa drugs kill bacteria yields 21st century drug development target
Date:3/1/2012

iotic 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 d
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Contact: Carrie Strehlau
media@stjude.org
901-595-2295
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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