The design and synthesis of narrow-spectrum antibiotics that target a specific bacterial strain, species, or group of species is a promising strategy for treating bacterial infections when the causative agent is known. In this work, we report the synthesis and evaluation of four new siderophore-β-lactam conjugates where the broad-spectrum β-lactam antibiotics cephalexin (Lex) and meropenem (Mem) are covalently attached to either enterobactin (Ent) or diglucosylated Ent (DGE) via a stable polyethylene glycol (PEG3) linker. These siderophore-β-lactam conjugates showed enhanced minimum inhibitory concentrations against Escherichia coli compared to the parent antibiotics. Uptake studies with uropathogenic E. coli CFT073 demonstrated that the DGE-β-lactams target the pathogen-associated catecholate siderophore receptor IroN. A comparative analysis of siderophore-β-lactams harboring ampicillin (Amp), Lex and Mem indicated that the DGE-Mem conjugate is advantageous because it targets IroN and exhibits low minimum inhibitory concentrations, fast time-kill kinetics, and enhanced stability to serine β-lactamases. Phase-contrast and fluorescence imaging of E. coli treated with the siderophore-β-lactam conjugates revealed cellular morphologies consistent with the inhibition of penicillin-binding proteins PBP3 (Ent/DGE-Amp/Lex) and PBP2 (Ent/DGE-Mem). Overall, this work illuminates the uptake and cell-killing activity of Ent- and DGE-β-lactam conjugates against E. coli and supports that native siderophore scaffolds provide the opportunity for narrowing the activity spectrum of antibiotics in clinical use and targeting pathogenicity.
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