Chromosome 1 of Vibrio vulnificus tends to contain larger portion of essential or housekeeping genes on the basis of the genomic analysis and gene knockout experiments performed in this study, while its chromosome 2 seems to have originated and evolved from a plasmid.The genome-scale metabolic network model of V. vulnificus was reconstructed based on databases and literature, and was used to identify 193 essential metabolites.Five essential metabolites finally selected after the filtering process are 2-amino-4-hydroxy-6-hydroxymethyl-7,8-dihydropteridine (AHHMP), D-glutamate (DGLU), 2,3-dihydrodipicolinate (DHDP), 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate (DX5P), and 4-aminobenzoate (PABA), which were predicted to be essential in V. vulnificus, absent in human, and are consumed by multiple reactions.Chemical analogs of the five essential metabolites were screened and a hit compound showing the minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of 2 μg/ml and the minimal bactericidal concentration (MBC) of 4 μg/ml against V. vulnificus was identified.
Discovering new antimicrobial targets and consequently new antimicrobials is important as drug resistance of pathogenic microorganisms is becoming an increasingly serious problem in human healthcare management (Fischbach and Walsh, 2009). There clearly exists a gap between genomic studies and drug discovery as the accumulation of knowledge on pathogens at genome level has not successfully transformed into the development of effective drugs (Mills, 2006; Payne et al, 2007). In this study, we dissected the genome of a microbial pathogen in detail, and subsequently developed a systems biological strategy of employing genome-scale metabolic modeling and simulation together with metabolite essentiality analysis for effective drug targeting and discovery. This strategy was used for identifying new drug targets in an opportunistic pathogen Vibrio vulnificus CMCP6 as a model.
V. vulnificus is a Gram-negative halophilic bacterium that is found in estuarine waters, brackish ponds, or coastal areas, and its Biotype 1 is an opportunistic human pathogen that can attack immune-compromised patients, and causes primary septicemia, necrotized wound infections, and gastroenteritis. We previously found that many metabolic genes were specifically induced in vivo, suggesting that specific metabolic pathways are essential for in vivo survival and virulence of this pathogen (Kim et al, 2003; Lee et al, 2007). These results motivated us to carry out systems biological analysis of the genome and the metabolic network for new drug target discovery.
V. vulnificus CMCP6 has two chromosomes. We first re-sequenced genomic regions assembled in low quality and low depth, and subsequently re-annotated the whole genome of V. vulnificus. Horizontal gene transfer was suspected to be responsible for the diversification of each chromosome of V. vulnificus, and the presence of metabolic genes was more biased to chromosome 1 than chromosome 2. Further studies on V. vulnificus genome revealed that chromosome 2 is more prone to diversification for better adaptation to the environment than its chromosome 1, while chromosome 1 tends to expand their genetic repertoire while maintaining the core genes at a constant level.
Next, a genome-scale metabolic network VvuMBEL943 was reconstructed based on literature, databases and experiments for systematic studies on the metabolism of this pathogen and prediction of drug targets. The VvuMBEL943 model is composed of 943 reactions and 765 metabolites, and covers 673 genes. The model was validated by comparing its simulated cell growth phenotype obtained by constraints-based flux analysis with the V. vulnificus-specific experimental data previously reported in the literature. In this study, constraints-based flux analysis is an optimization-based simulation method that calculates intracellular fluxes under the specific genetic and environmental condition (Kim et al, 2008). As a result, 17 growth phenotypes were correctly predicted out of 18 cases, which demonstrate the validity of VvuMBEL943.
The main objective of constructing VvuMBEL943 in this study is to predict potential drug targets by system-wide analysis of the metabolic network for the effective treatment of V. vulnificus. To achieve this goal, a set of drug target candidates was predicted by taking a metabolite-centric approach. Metabolite essentiality analysis is a concept recently introduced for the study of cellular robustness to complement conventional reaction or gene-centric approach (Kim et al, 2007b). Metabolite essentiality analysis observes changes in flux distribution by removing each metabolite from the in silico metabolic network. Hence, metabolite essentiality predicts essential metabolites whose absence causes cell death. By selecting essential metabolites, it is possible to directly screen only their structural analogs, which substantially reduces the number of chemical compounds to screen from the chemical compound library. As a result of implementing this approach, 193 metabolites were initially identified to be essential to the cell. These essential metabolites were then further filtered based on the predetermined criteria, mainly organism specificity and multiple connectivity associated with each metabolite, in order to reduce the number of initial target candidates towards identifying the most effective ones.
Five essential metabolites finally selected are 2-amino-4-hydroxy-6-hydroxymethyl-7,8-dihydropteridine (AHHMP), D-glutamate (DGLU), 2,3-dihydrodipicolinate (DHDP), 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate (DX5P), and 4-aminobenzoate (PABA). Enzymes that consume these essential metabolites were experimentally verified to be essential, which indeed demonstrates the essentiality of these five metabolites. On the basis of the structural information of these five essential metabolites, whole-cell screening assay was performed using their analogs for possible antibacterial discovery. We screened 352 chemical analogs of the essential metabolites selected from the chemical compound library, and found a hit compound 24837, which shows the minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of 2 μg/ml and minimal bactericidal concentration (MBC) of 4 μg/ml, showing good antibacterial activity without further structural modification. Although this study demonstrates a proof-of-concept, the approaches and their rationale taken here should serve as a general strategy for discovering novel antibiotics and drugs based on systems-level analysis of metabolic networks.
Although the genomes of many microbial pathogens have been studied to help identify effective drug targets and novel drugs, such efforts have not yet reached full fruition. In this study, we report a systems biological approach that efficiently utilizes genomic information for drug targeting and discovery, and apply this approach to the opportunistic pathogen Vibrio vulnificus CMCP6. First, we partially re-sequenced and fully re-annotated the V. vulnificus CMCP6 genome, and accordingly reconstructed its genome-scale metabolic network, VvuMBEL943. The validated network model was employed to systematically predict drug targets using the concept of metabolite essentiality, along with additional filtering criteria. Target genes encoding enzymes that interact with the five essential metabolites finally selected were experimentally validated. These five essential metabolites are critical to the survival of the cell, and hence were used to guide the cost-effective selection of chemical analogs, which were then screened for antimicrobial activity in a whole-cell assay. This approach is expected to help fill the existing gap between genomics and drug discovery.