Background: Many pathogenic bacteria secrete iron-chelating siderophores as virulence factors in the iron-limiting environments of their vertebrate hosts to compete for ferric iron. Mycobacterium tuberculosis mycobactins are mixed polyketide/nonribosomal peptides that contain a hydroxyaryloxazoline cap and two N-hydroxyamides that together create a high-affinity site for ferric ion. The mycobactin structure is analogous to that of the yersiniabactin and vibriobactin siderophores from the bacteria that cause plague and cholera, respectively.
Results: A ten-gene cluster spanning 24 kilobases of the M. tuberculosis genome, designated mbtA-J, contains the core components necessary for mycobactin biogenesis. The gene products MbtB, MbtE and MbtF are proposed to be peptide synthetases, MbtC and MbtD polyketide synthases, MbtI an isochorismate synthase that provides a salicylate activated by MbtA, and MbtG a required hydroxylase. An aryl carrier protein (ArCP) domain is encoded in mbtB, and is probably the site of siderophore chain initiation. Overproduction and purification of the mbtB ArCP domain and MbtA in Escherichia coli allowed validation of the mycobactin initiation hypothesis, as sequential action of PptT (a phosphopantetheinyl transferase) and MbtA (a salicyl-AMP ligase) resulted in the mbtB ArCP domain being activated as salicyl-S-ArCP.
Conclusions: Mycobactins are produced in M. tuberculosis using a polyketide synthase/nonribosomal peptide synthetase strategy. The mycobactin gene cluster has organizational homologies to the yersiniabactin and enterobactin synthetase genes. Enzymatic targets for inhibitor design and therapeutic intervention are suggested by the similar ferric-ion ligation strategies used in the siderophores from Mycobacteria, Yersinia and E. coli pathogens.