Pneumococcus resists β-lactams by expressing variants of its target enzymes, the penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs), with many amino acid substitutions. Up to 10% of the sequence can be modified. These altered PBPs have a much reduced reactivity with the drugs but retain their physiological activity of cross-linking the peptidoglycan, the major constituent of the bacterial cell wall. However, because β-lactams are chemical and structural mimics of the natural substrate, resistance mediated by altered PBPs raises the following paradox: how PBPs that react poorly with the drugs maintain a sufficient level of activity with the physiological substrate. This question is addressed for the first time in this study, which compares the peptidoglycan cross-linking activity of PBP2b from susceptible and resistant strains with their inhibition by different β-lactams. Unexpectedly, the enzymatic activity of the variants did not correlate with their antibiotic reactivity. This finding indicates that some of the numerous amino acid substitutions were selected to restore a viable level of enzymatic activity by a compensatory molecular mechanism.
Keywords: Streptococcus; antibiotic resistance; cell wall; enzyme kinetics; peptidoglycan.
© 2017 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.