Carbapenems such as meropenem are being investigated for their potential therapeutic utility against highly drug-resistant tuberculosis. These β-lactams target the transpeptidases that introduce interpeptide cross-links into bacterial peptidoglycan thereby controlling rigidity of the bacterial envelope. Treatment of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) with the β-lactamase inhibitor clavulanate together with meropenem resulted in rapid, polar, cell lysis releasing cytoplasmic contents. In Mtb it has been previously demonstrated that 3-3 cross-linkages [involving two diaminopimelate (DAP) molecules] predominate over 4-3 cross-linkages (involving one DAP and one D-alanine) in stationary-phase cells. We purified and analysed peptidoglycan from Mtb and found that 3-3 cross-linkages predominate throughout all growth phases and the ratio of 4-3/3-3 linkages does not vary significantly under any growth condition. Meropenem treatment was accompanied by a dramatic accumulation of unlinked pentapeptide stems with no change in the tetrapeptide pools, suggesting that meropenem inhibits both a D,D-carboxypeptidase and an L,D-transpeptidase. We purified a candidate D,D-carboxypeptidase DacB2 and showed that meropenem indeed directly inhibits this enzyme by forming a stable adduct at the enzyme active site. These results suggest that the rapid lysis of meropenem-treated cells is the result of synergistically inhibiting the transpeptidases that introduce 3,3-cross-links while simultaneously limiting the pool of available substrates available for cross-linking.
Published 2012. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.