Inhibition of bacterial thioredoxin reductase: an antibiotic mechanism targeting bacteria lacking glutathione

FASEB J. 2013 Apr;27(4):1394-403. doi: 10.1096/fj.12-223305. Epub 2012 Dec 17.


Increasing antibiotic resistance makes the identification of new antibacterial principles an urgent task. The thioredoxin system including thioredoxin reductase (TrxR), thioredoxin (Trx), and NADPH plays critical roles in cellular DNA synthesis and defense against oxidative stress. Notably, TrxR is very different in structure and mechanism in mammals and bacteria. Ebselen [2-phenyl-1,2 benzisoselenazol-3(2H)-one], a well-known antioxidant and a substrate for mammalian TrxR and Trx, is rapidly bacteriocidal for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus by an unknown mechanism. We have discovered that ebselen is a competitive inhibitor of Escherichia coli TrxR with a Ki of 0.52 ± 0.13 μM, through reaction with the active site dithiol of the enzyme. Bacteria lacking glutathione (GSH) and glutaredoxin, in which TrxR and Trx are essential for DNA synthesis, were particularly sensitive to ebselen. In growth-inhibited E. coli strains, Trx1 and Trx2 were oxidized, demonstrating that electron transfer via thioredoxin was blocked. Ebselen and its sulfur analog ebsulfur were bactericidal for GSH-negative pathogens. Ebsulfur inhibited a clinically isolated Helicobacter pylori strain with a minimum inhibitory concentration value as low as 0.39 μg/ml. These results demonstrate that bacterial Trx and TrxR are viable antibacterial drug targets using benzisoselenazol and benzisothiazol derivates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Azoles / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Escherichia coli
  • Glutathione / deficiency
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Isoindoles
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Organoselenium Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / metabolism*
  • Thioredoxins / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Azoles
  • Isoindoles
  • Organoselenium Compounds
  • ebselen
  • Thioredoxins
  • NADP
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase
  • Glutathione