Mechanisms of Incorporation for D-Amino Acid Probes That Target Peptidoglycan Biosynthesis

ACS Chem Biol. 2019 Dec 20;14(12):2745-2756. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.9b00664. Epub 2019 Dec 5.


Bacteria exhibit a myriad of different morphologies, through the synthesis and modification of their essential peptidoglycan (PG) cell wall. Our discovery of a fluorescent D-amino acid (FDAA)-based PG labeling approach provided a powerful method for observing how these morphological changes occur. Given that PG is unique to bacterial cells and a common target for antibiotics, understanding the precise mechanism(s) for incorporation of (F)DAA-based probes is a crucial determinant in understanding the role of PG synthesis in bacterial cell biology and could provide a valuable tool in the development of new antimicrobials to treat drug-resistant antibacterial infections. Here, we systematically investigate the mechanisms of FDAA probe incorporation into PG using two model organisms Escherichia coli (Gram-negative) and Bacillus subtilis (Gram-positive). Our in vitro and in vivo data unequivocally demonstrate that these bacteria incorporate FDAAs using two extracytoplasmic pathways: through activity of their D,D-transpeptidases, and, if present, by their L,D-transpeptidases and not via cytoplasmic incorporation into a D-Ala-D-Ala dipeptide precursor. Our data also revealed the unprecedented finding that the DAA-drug, D-cycloserine, can be incorporated into peptide stems by each of these transpeptidases, in addition to its known inhibitory activity against D-alanine racemase and D-Ala-D-Ala ligase. These mechanistic findings enabled development of a new, FDAA-based, in vitro labeling approach that reports on subcellular distribution of muropeptides, an especially important attribute to enable the study of bacteria with poorly defined growth modes. An improved understanding of the incorporation mechanisms utilized by DAA-based probes is essential when interpreting results from high resolution experiments and highlights the antimicrobial potential of synthetic DAAs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Bacillus subtilis / metabolism
  • Cell Wall / metabolism
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Molecular Probes / metabolism*
  • Peptidoglycan / biosynthesis*
  • Peptidyl Transferases / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Molecular Probes
  • Peptidoglycan
  • Peptidyl Transferases