The tunicamycin derivative TunR2 exhibits potent antibiotic properties with low toxicity in an in vivo Mycobacterium marinum-zebrafish TB infection model

J Antibiot (Tokyo). 2024 Apr;77(4):245-256. doi: 10.1038/s41429-023-00694-z. Epub 2024 Jan 18.


Tunicamycins (TUN) are well-defined, Streptomyces-derived natural products that inhibit protein N-glycosylation in eukaryotes, and by a conserved mechanism also block bacterial cell wall biosynthesis. TUN inhibits the polyprenylphosphate-N-acetyl-hexosamine-1-phospho-transferases (PNPT), an essential family of enzymes found in both bacteria and eukaryotes. We have previously published the development of chemically modified TUN, called TunR1 and TunR2, that have considerably reduced activity on eukaryotes but that retain the potent antibacterial properties. A mechanism for this reduced toxicity has also been reported. TunR1 and TunR2 have been tested against mammalian cell lines in culture and against live insect cells but, until now, no in vivo evaluation has been undertaken for vertebrates. In the current work, TUN, TunR1, and TunR2 are investigated for their relative toxicity and antimycobacterial activity in zebrafish using a well-established Mycobacterium marinum (M. marinum) infection system, a model for studying human Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections. We also report the relative ability to activate the unfolded protein response (UPR), the known mechanism for the eukaryotic toxicity observed with TUN treatment. Importantly, TunR1 and TunR2 retained their antimicrobial properties, as evidenced by a reduction in M. marinum bacterial burden, compared to DMSO-treated zebrafish. In summary, findings from this study highlight the characteristics of recently developed TUN derivatives, mainly TunR2, and its potential for use as a novel anti-bacterial agent for veterinary and potential medical purposes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous* / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium marinum* / physiology
  • Phosphotransferases / chemistry
  • Tunicamycin* / analogs & derivatives
  • Tunicamycin* / chemistry
  • Zebrafish / microbiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Tunicamycin
  • TunR2
  • Phosphotransferases