Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most frequent causes of nosocomial and community-acquired infections, with emerging multiresistant isolates causing a significant burden to public health systems. We identified 2-sulfonylpyrimidines as a new class of potent inhibitors against S. aureus sortase A acting by covalent modification of the active site cysteine 184. Series of derivatives were synthesized to derive structure-activity relationship (SAR) with the most potent compounds displaying low micromolar KI values. Studies on the inhibition selectivity of homologous cysteine proteases showed that 2-sulfonylpyrimidines reacted efficiently with protonated cysteine residues as found in sortase A, though surprisingly, no reaction occurred with the more nucleophilic cysteine residue from imidazolinium-thiolate dyads of cathepsin-like proteases. By means of enzymatic and chemical kinetics as well as quantum chemical calculations, it could be rationalized that the S N Ar reaction between protonated cysteine residues and 2-sulfonylpyrimidines proceeds in a concerted fashion, and the mechanism involves a ternary transition state with a conjugated base. Molecular docking and enzyme inhibition at variable pH values allowed us to hypothesize that in sortase A this base is represented by the catalytic histidine 120, which could be substantiated by QM model calculation with 4-methylimidazole as histidine analog.
Keywords: anti-virulence; covalent inhibition; drug discovery; quantum mechanics; sortase.
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