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1.  Duplication of Teichoic Acid Biosynthetic Genes in Staphylococcus aureus Leads to Functionally Redundant Poly(Ribitol Phosphate) Polymerases▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(16):5642-5649.
Wall teichoic acids are anionic phosphate-rich polymers that are part of the complex meshwork of carbohydrates that make up the gram-positive cell wall. These polymers are essential to the proper rod-shaped morphology of Bacillus subtilis and have been shown to be an important virulence determinant in the nosocomial opportunistic pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Together, sequence-based studies, in vitro experiments with biosynthetic proteins, and analyses of the chemical structure of wall teichoic acid have begun to shed considerable light on our understanding of the biogenesis of this polymer. Nevertheless, some paradoxes remain unresolved. One of these involves a putative duplication of genes linked to CDP-ribitol synthesis (tarI′J′ and tarIJ) as well as poly(ribitol phosphate) polymerization (tarK and tarL) in S. aureus. In the work reported here, we performed careful studies of the dispensability of each gene and discovered a functional redundancy in the duplicated gene clusters. We were able to create mutants in either of the putative ribitol phosphate polymerases (encoded by tarK and tarL) without affecting teichoic acid levels in the S. aureus cell wall. Although genes linked to CDP-ribitol synthesis are also duplicated, a null mutant in only one of these (tarI′J′) could be obtained, while tarIJ remained essential. Suppression analysis of the tarIJ null mutant indicated that the mechanism of dysfunction in tarI′J′ is due to poor translation of the TarJ′ enzyme, which catalyzes the rate-limiting step in CDP-ribitol formation. This work provides new insights into understanding the complex synthetic steps of the ribitol phosphate polymer in S. aureus and has implications on specifically targeting enzymes involved in polymer biosynthesis for antimicrobial design.
PMCID: PMC2519377  PMID: 18556787
2.  Late-Stage Polyribitol Phosphate Wall Teichoic Acid Biosynthesis in Staphylococcus aureus▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(8):3046-3056.
Wall teichoic acids are cell wall polymers that maintain the integrity of the cellular envelope and contribute to the virulence of Staphylococcus aureus. Despite the central role of wall teichoic acid in S. aureus virulence, details concerning the biosynthetic pathway of the predominant wall teichoic acid polymer are lacking, and workers have relied on a presumed similarity to the putative polyribitol phosphate wall teichoic acid pathway in Bacillus subtilis. Using high-resolution polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis for analysis of wall teichoic acid extracted from gene deletion mutants, a revised assembly pathway for the late-stage ribitol phosphate-utilizing enzymes is proposed. Complementation studies show that a putative ribitol phosphate polymerase, TarL, catalyzes both the addition of the priming ribitol phosphate onto the linkage unit and the subsequent polymerization of the polyribitol chain. It is known that the putative ribitol primase, TarK, is also a bifunctional enzyme that catalyzes both ribitol phosphate priming and polymerization. TarK directs the synthesis of a second, electrophoretically distinct polyribitol-containing teichoic acid that we designate K-WTA. The biosynthesis of K-WTA in S. aureus strain NCTC8325 is repressed by the accessory gene regulator (agr) system. The demonstration of regulated wall teichoic acid biosynthesis has implications for cell envelope remodeling in relation to S. aureus adhesion and pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2293236  PMID: 18281399
3.  Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis W23 make polyribitol wall teichoic acids using different enzymatic pathways 
Chemistry & biology  2010;17(10):1101-1110.
Wall teichoic acids (WTAs) are anionic polymers that play key roles in bacterial cell shape, cell division, envelope integrity, biofilm formation, and pathogenesis. B. subtilis W23 and S. aureus both make polyribitol-phosphate (RboP) WTAs and contain similar sets of biosynthetic genes. We use in vitro reconstitution combined with genetics to show the pathways for WTA biosynthesis in B. subtilis W23 and S. aureus are different. S. aureus requires a glycerol-phosphate primase called TarF in order make RboP-WTAs; B. subtilis W23 contains a TarF homolog, but this enzyme makes glycerol-phosphate polymers and is not involved RboP-WTA synthesis. Instead, B. subtilis TarK functions in place of TarF to prime the WTA intermediate for chain extension by TarL. This work highlights the enzymatic diversity of the poorly characterized family of phosphotransferases involved in WTA biosynthesis in Gram-positive organisms.
PMCID: PMC3018828  PMID: 21035733
4.  Lesions in Teichoic Acid Biosynthesis in Staphylococcus aureus Lead to a Lethal Gain of Function in the Otherwise Dispensable Pathway§  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(12):4183-4189.
An extensive study of teichoic acid biosynthesis in the model organism Bacillus subtilis has established teichoic acid polymers as essential components of the gram-positive cell wall. However, similar studies pertaining to therapeutically relevant organisms, such as Staphylococcus aureus, are scarce. In this study we have carried out a meticulous examination of the dispensability of teichoic acid biosynthetic enzymes in S. aureus. By use of an allelic replacement methodology, we examined all facets of teichoic acid assembly, including intracellular polymer production and export. Using this approach we confirmed that the first-acting enzyme (TarO) was dispensable for growth, in contrast to dispensability studies in B. subtilis. Upon further characterization, we demonstrated that later-acting gene products (TarB, TarD, TarF, TarIJ, and TarH) responsible for polymer formation and export were essential for viability. We resolved this paradox by demonstrating that all of the apparently indispensable genes became dispensable in a tarO null genetic background. This work suggests a lethal gain-of-function mechanism where lesions beyond the initial step in wall teichoic acid biosynthesis render S. aureus nonviable. This discovery poses questions regarding the conventional understanding of essential gene sets, garnered through single-gene knockout experiments in bacteria and higher organisms, and points to a novel drug development strategy targeting late steps in teichoic acid synthesis for the infectious pathogen S. aureus.
PMCID: PMC1482942  PMID: 16740924
5.  Teichoic Acid Is an Essential Polymer in Bacillus subtilis That Is Functionally Distinct from Teichuronic Acid† 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(23):7865-7873.
Wall teichoic acids are anionic, phosphate-rich polymers linked to the peptidoglycan of gram-positive bacteria. In Bacillus subtilis, the predominant wall teichoic acid types are poly(glycerol phosphate) in strain 168 and poly(ribitol phosphate) in strain W23, and they are synthesized by the tag and tar gene products, respectively. Growing evidence suggests that wall teichoic acids are essential in B. subtilis; however, it is widely believed that teichoic acids are dispensable under phosphate-limiting conditions. In the work reported here, we carefully studied the dispensability of teichoic acid under phosphate-limiting conditions by constructing three new mutants. These strains, having precise deletions in tagB, tagF, and tarD, were dependent on xylose-inducible complementation from a distal locus (amyE) for growth. The tarD deletion interrupted poly(ribitol phosphate) synthesis in B. subtilis and represents a unique deletion of a tar gene. When teichoic acid biosynthetic proteins were depleted, the mutants showed a coccoid morphology and cell wall thickening. The new wall teichoic acid biogenesis mutants generated in this work and a previously reported tagD mutant were not viable under phosphate-limiting conditions in the absence of complementation. Cell wall analysis of B. subtilis grown under phosphate-limited conditions showed that teichoic acid contributed approximately one-third of the wall anionic content. These data suggest that wall teichoic acid has an essential function in B. subtilis that cannot be replaced by teichuronic acid.
PMCID: PMC529093  PMID: 15547257
6.  Synthesis of CDP-Activated Ribitol for Teichoic Acid Precursors in Streptococcus pneumoniae▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;191(4):1200-1210.
Streptococcus pneumoniae has unusually complex cell wall teichoic acid and lipoteichoic acid, both of which contain a ribitol phosphate moiety. The lic region of the pneumococcal genome contains genes for the uptake and activation of choline, the attachment of phosphorylcholine to teichoic acid precursors, and the transport of these precursors across the cytoplasmic membrane. The role of two other, so far uncharacterized, genes, spr1148 and spr1149, in the lic region was determined. TarJ (spr1148) encodes an NADPH-dependent alcohol dehydrogenase for the synthesis of ribitol 5-phosphate from ribulose 5-phosphate. TarI (spr1149) encodes a cytidylyl transferase for the synthesis of cytidine 5′-diphosphate (CDP)-ribitol from ribitol 5-phosphate and cytidine 5′-triphosphate. We also present the crystal structure of TarI with and without bound CDP, and the structures present a rationale for the substrate specificity of this key enzyme. No transformants were obtained with insertion plasmids designed to interrupt the tarIJ genes, indicating that their function could be essential for cell growth. CDP-activated ribitol is a precursor for the synthesis of pneumococcal teichoic acids and some of the capsular polysaccharides. Thus, all eight genes in the lic region have a role in teichoic acid synthesis.
PMCID: PMC2631998  PMID: 19074383
7.  Staphylococcus aureus Mutants Lacking the LytR-CpsA-Psr Family of Enzymes Release Cell Wall Teichoic Acids into the Extracellular Medium 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(20):4650-4659.
The LytR-CpsA-Psr (LCP) proteins are thought to transfer bactoprenol-linked biosynthetic intermediates of wall teichoic acid (WTA) to the peptidoglycan of Gram-positive bacteria. In Bacillus subtilis, mutants lacking all three LCP enzymes do not deposit WTA in the envelope, while Staphylococcus aureus Δlcp mutants display impaired growth and reduced levels of envelope phosphate. We show here that the S. aureus Δlcp mutant synthesized WTA yet released ribitol phosphate polymers into the extracellular medium. Further, Δlcp mutant staphylococci no longer restricted the deposition of LysM-type murein hydrolases to cell division sites, which was associated with defects in cell shape and increased autolysis. Mutations in S. aureus WTA synthesis genes (tagB, tarF, or tarJ2) inhibit growth, which is attributed to the depletion of bactoprenol, an essential component of peptidoglycan synthesis (lipid II). The growth defect of S. aureus tagB and tarFJ mutants was alleviated by inhibition of WTA synthesis with tunicamycin, whereas the growth defect of the Δlcp mutant was not relieved by tunicamycin treatment or by mutation of tagO, whose product catalyzes the first committed step of WTA synthesis. Further, sortase A-mediated anchoring of proteins to peptidoglycan, which also involves bactoprenol and lipid II, was not impaired in the Δlcp mutant. We propose a model whereby the S. aureus Δlcp mutant, defective in tethering WTA to the cell wall, cleaves WTA synthesis intermediates, releasing ribitol phosphate into the medium and recycling bactoprenol for peptidoglycan synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3807444  PMID: 23935043
8.  Expression, purification, crystallization and preliminary X-ray analysis of ribitol-5-phosphate cytidylyltransferase from Bacillus subtilis  
The B. subtilis ribitol-5-phosphate cytidylyltransferase enzyme TarI was crystallized; determination of its structure will lead to structural and functional insight into the biosynthesis of wall teichoic acids.
TarI is a ribitol-5-phosphate cytidylyltransferase that catalyzes the formation of CDP-ribitol, which is involved in the biosynthesis of wall teichoic acids, from CTP and ribitol 5-phosphate. TarI from Bacillus subtilis (BsTarI) was purified and crystallized using the sitting-drop vapour-diffusion method. The crystals diffracted to a resolution of 1.78 Å and belonged to the monoclinic space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 103.74, b = 60.97, c = 91.80 Å, β = 113.48°. The initial structural model indicated that the crystals of BsTarI contained a dimer in the asymmetric unit.
PMCID: PMC3497978  PMID: 23027746
ribitol-5-phosphate cytidylyltransferase; wall teichoic acids; Bacillus subtilis; TarI
9.  The N-Acetylmannosamine Transferase Catalyzes the First Committed Step of Teichoic Acid Assembly in Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus▿ §  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(12):4030-4034.
There have been considerable strides made in the characterization of the dispensability of teichoic acid biosynthesis genes in recent years. A notable omission thus far has been an early gene in teichoic acid synthesis encoding the N-acetylmannosamine transferase (tagA in Bacillus subtilis; tarA in Staphylococcus aureus), which adds N-acetylmannosamine to complete the synthesis of undecaprenol pyrophosphate-linked disaccharide. Here, we show that the N-acetylmannosamine transferases are dispensable for growth in vitro, making this biosynthetic enzyme the last dispensable gene in the pathway, suggesting that tagA (or tarA) encodes the first committed step in wall teichoic acid synthesis.
PMCID: PMC2698391  PMID: 19376878
10.  Role of the Group B Antigen of Streptococcus agalactiae: A Peptidoglycan-Anchored Polysaccharide Involved in Cell Wall Biogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(6):e1002756.
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B streptococcus, GBS) is a leading cause of infections in neonates and an emerging pathogen in adults. The Lancefield Group B carbohydrate (GBC) is a peptidoglycan-anchored antigen that defines this species as a Group B Streptococcus. Despite earlier immunological and biochemical characterizations, the function of this abundant glycopolymer has never been addressed experimentally. Here, we inactivated the gene gbcO encoding a putative UDP-N-acetylglucosamine-1-phosphate:lipid phosphate transferase thought to catalyze the first step of GBC synthesis. Indeed, the gbcO mutant was unable to synthesize the GBC polymer, and displayed an important growth defect in vitro. Electron microscopy study of the GBC-depleted strain of S. agalactiae revealed a series of growth-related abnormalities: random placement of septa, defective cell division and separation processes, and aberrant cell morphology. Furthermore, vancomycin labeling and peptidoglycan structure analysis demonstrated that, in the absence of GBC, cells failed to initiate normal PG synthesis and cannot complete polymerization of the murein sacculus. Finally, the subcellular localization of the PG hydrolase PcsB, which has a critical role in cell division of streptococci, was altered in the gbcO mutant. Collectively, these findings show that GBC is an essential component of the cell wall of S. agalactiae whose function is reminiscent of that of conventional wall teichoic acids found in Staphylococcus aureus or Bacillus subtilis. Furthermore, our findings raise the possibility that GBC-like molecules play a major role in the growth of most if not all beta –hemolytic streptococci.
Author Summary
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus) is a leading cause of sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis (brain infection) in newborns and in adults with underlying diseases. S. agalactiae is a Gram-positive coccus surrounded by a thick cell wall that acts as an exoskeleton to guarantee resistance to mechanical stresses and maintenance of cell shape. Understanding the organization and the functioning of the cell wall is very important as this cellular compartment is essential to bacterial physiology and the target of many antibiotics. In this report, we have discovered the first gene gbcO involved in the synthesis of an abundant polysaccharide anchored to the peptidoglycan known for many years as the Group B antigen (GBC). We have constructed the first GBC-depleted strain of S. agalactiae (ΔgbcO) that displayed important growth-related defects due to mislocalization of peptidoglycan synthesis and remodeling enzymes. The phenotypes of the ΔgbcO mutant are similar to those observed for a ΔtarO mutant of Staphylococcus aureus, tarO being involved in the first step of the biosynthesis of wall teichoic acid (WTA). Hence, our results strongly suggest that GBC is the functional homolog of WTA in GBS, both being peptidoglycan-anchored glycopolymers required for the maintenance of normal growth and proper cell division. Based on genome comparisons, we postulate that GBC-like molecules with similar functions are synthesized by other streptococcal species responsible for a variety of infectious diseases in human and animals. These putative biosynthetic pathways might constitute attractive targets for the development of novel antimicrobial molecules.
PMCID: PMC3375309  PMID: 22719253
11.  Inhibition of WTA Synthesis Blocks the Cooperative Action of PBPs and Sensitizes MRSA to β-Lactams 
ACS Chemical Biology  2012;8(1):226-233.
Rising drug resistance is limiting treatment options for infections by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Herein we provide new evidence that wall teichoic acid (WTA) biogenesis is a remarkable antibacterial target with the capacity to destabilize the cooperative action of penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs) that underlie β-lactam resistance in MRSA. Deletion of gene tarO, encoding the first step of WTA synthesis, resulted in the restoration of sensitivity of MRSA to a unique profile of β-lactam antibiotics with a known selectivity for penicillin binding protein 2 (PBP2). Of these, cefuroxime was used as a probe to screen for previously approved drugs with a cryptic capacity to potentiate its activity against MRSA. Ticlopidine, the antiplatelet drug Ticlid, strongly potentiated cefuroxime, and this synergy was abolished in strains lacking tarO. The combination was also effective in a Galleria mellonella model of infection. Using both genetic and biochemical strategies, we determined the molecular target of ticlopidine as the N-acetylglucosamine-1-phosphate transferase encoded in gene tarO and provide evidence that WTA biogenesis represents an Achilles heel supporting the cooperative function of PBP2 and PBP4 in creating highly cross-linked muropeptides in the peptidoglycan of S. aureus. This approach represents a new paradigm to tackle MRSA infection.
PMCID: PMC3552485  PMID: 23062620
12.  Synthetic lethal compound combinations reveal a fundamental connection between wall teichoic acid and peptidoglycan biosyntheses in Staphylococcus aureus 
ACS chemical biology  2010;6(1):106-116.
Methicillin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus depends on the production of mecA, which encodes penicillin-binding protein 2A (PBP2A), an acquired peptidoglycan transpeptidase (TP) with reduced susceptibility to beta-lactam antibiotics. PBP2A crosslinks nascent peptidoglycan when the native TPs are inhibited by beta-lactams. Although mecA expression is essential for beta-lactam resistance, it is not sufficient. Here we show that blocking the expression of wall teichoic acids (WTAs) by inhibiting the first enzyme in the pathway, TarO, sensitizes MRSA strains to beta-lactams even though the beta-lactam-resistant transpeptidase, PBP2A, is still expressed. The dramatic synergy between TarO inhibitors and beta-lactams is noteworthy not simply because strategies to overcome methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) are desperately needed, but because neither TarO nor the activities of the native TPs are essential in MRSA strains. The “synthetic lethality” of inhibiting TarO and the native TPs suggests a functional connection between ongoing WTA expression and peptidoglycan assembly in S. aureus. Indeed, transmission electron microscopy shows that S. aureus cells blocked in WTA synthesis have extensive defects in septation and cell separation, indicating dysregulated cell wall assembly and degradation. Our studies imply that WTAs play a fundamental role in S. aureus cell division and raise the possibility that synthetic lethal compound combinations may have therapeutic utility for overcoming antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.
PMCID: PMC3025082  PMID: 20961110
13.  Wall Teichoic Acid Polymers Are Dispensable for Cell Viability in Bacillus subtilis▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(23):8313-8316.
An extensive literature has established that the synthesis of wall teichoic acid in Bacillus subtilis is essential for cell viability. Paradoxically, we have recently shown that wall teichoic acid biogenesis is dispensable in Staphylococcus aureus (M. A. D'Elia, M. P. Pereira, Y. S. Chung, W. Zhao, A. Chau, T. J. Kenney, M. C. Sulavik, T. A. Black, and E. D. Brown, J. Bacteriol. 188:4183-4189, 2006). A complex pattern of teichoic acid gene dispensability was seen in S. aureus where the first gene (tarO) was dispensable and later acting genes showed an indispensable phenotype. Here we show, for the first time, that wall teichoic acid synthesis is also dispensable in B. subtilis and that a similar gene dispensability pattern is seen where later acting enzymes display an essential phenotype, while the gene tagO, whose product catalyzes the first step in the pathway, could be deleted to yield viable mutants devoid of teichoic acid in the cell wall.
PMCID: PMC1698200  PMID: 17012386
14.  ABC transporters required for export of wall teichoic acids do not discriminate between different main chain polymers 
ACS chemical biology  2011;6(5):407-412.
The cell envelopes of Gram-positive bacteria comprise two major constituents, peptidoglycan and teichoic acids. Wall teichoic acids (WTAs) are anionic glycophosphate polymers that play important roles in bacterial cell growth, division, and pathogenesis. They are synthesized intracellularly and exported by an ABC transporter to the cell surface, where they are covalently attached to peptidoglycan. We address here the substrate specificity of WTA transporters by substituting the Bacillus subtilis homologue, TagGHBs, with the Staphylococcus aureus homologue, TarGHSa. These transporters export structurally different substrates in their indigenous organisms, but we show that TarGHSa can substitute for the B. subtilis transporter. Hence, substrate specificity does not depend on the WTA main chain polymer structure, but may be determined by the conserved diphospholipid-linked disaccharide portion of the WTA precursor. We also show that the complemented B. subtilis strain becomes susceptible to a S. aureus-specific antibiotic, demonstrating that the S. aureus WTA transporter is the sole target of this compound.
PMCID: PMC3098905  PMID: 21280653
15.  Discovery of Novel Wall Teichoic Acid Inhibitors as Effective anti-MRSA β-lactam Combination Agents 
Chemistry & biology  2013;20(2):272-284.
Innovative strategies are needed to combat drug resistance associated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Here, we investigate the potential of wall teichoic acid (WTA) biosynthesis inhibitors as combination agents to restore β-lactam efficacy against MRSA. Performing a whole cell pathway-based screen we identified a series of WTA inhibitors (WTAIs) targeting the WTA transporter protein, TarG. Whole genome sequencing of WTAI resistant isolates across two methicillin-resistant Staphylococci spp. revealed TarG as their common target, as well as a broad assortment of drug resistant bypass mutants mapping to earlier steps of WTA biosynthesis. Extensive in vitro microbiological analysis and animal infection studies provide strong genetic and pharmacological evidence of the potential effectiveness of WTAIs as anti-MRSA β-lactam combination agents. This work also highlights the emerging role of whole genome sequencing in antibiotic mode-of-action and resistance studies.
PMCID: PMC3762323  PMID: 23438756
Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA; MRSE; imipenem; wall teichoic acid; antibiotic resistance; β-lactam potentiation; combination agent; chemical biology; Next Generation Sequencing
16.  Discovery of a Small Molecule that Blocks Wall Teichoic Acid Biosynthesis in Staphylococcus aureus 
ACS chemical biology  2009;4(10):875-883.
Both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria contain bactoprenol-dependent biosynthetic pathways expressing non-essential cell surface polysaccharides that function as virulence factors. Although these polymers are not required for bacterial viability in vitro, genes in many of the biosynthetic pathways are conditionally essential: they cannot be deleted except in strains incapable of initiating polymer synthesis. We report a cell-based, pathway-specific strategy to screen for small molecule inhibitors of conditionally essential enzymes. The screen identifies molecules that prevent the growth of a wildtype bacterial strain but do not affect the growth of a mutant strain incapable of initiating polymer synthesis. We have applied this approach to discover inhibitors of wall teichoic acid (WTA) biosynthesis in Staphylococcus aureus. WTAs are anionic cell surface polysaccharides required for host colonization that have been suggested as targets for new antimicrobials. We have identified a small molecule, 7-chloro-N,N-diethyl-3-(phenylsulfonyl)-[1,2,3]triazolo[1,5-a]quinolin-5-amine (1835F03), that inhibits the growth of a panel of S. aureus strains (MIC = 1–3 μg mL−1), including clinical methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) isolates. Using a combination of biochemistry and genetics, we have identified the molecular target as TarG, the transmembrane component of the ABC transporter that exports WTAs to the cell surface. We also show that preventing the completion of WTA biosynthesis once it has been initiated triggers growth arrest. The discovery of 1835F03 validates our chemical genetics strategy for identifying inhibitors of conditionally essential enzymes, and the strategy should be applicable to many other bactoprenol-dependent biosynthetic pathways in the pursuit of novel antibacterials and probes of bacterial stress response.
PMCID: PMC2787957  PMID: 19689117
17.  Wall teichoic acid protects Staphylococcus aureus from inhibition by Congo red and other dyes 
Polyanionic polymers, including lipoteichoic acid and wall teichoic acid, are important determinants of the charged character of the staphylococcal cell wall. This study was designed to investigate the extent to which teichoic acid contributes to protection from anionic azo dyes and to identify barriers to drug penetration for development of new antibiotics for multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection.
We studied antimicrobial activity of azo dyes against S. aureus strains with or without inhibition of teichoic acid in vitro and in vivo.
We observed that inhibition of wall teichoic acid expression resulted in an ∼1000-fold increase in susceptibility to azo dyes such as Congo red, reducing its MIC from >1024 to <4 mg/L. Sensitization occurred when the first step in the wall teichoic acid pathway, catalysed by TarO, was inhibited either by mutation or by chemical inhibition. In contrast, genetic blockade of lipoteichoic acid biosynthesis did not confer Congo red susceptibility. Based on this finding, combination therapy was tested using the highly synergistic combination of Congo red plus tunicamycin at sub-MIC concentrations (to inhibit wall teichoic acid biosynthesis). The combination rescued Caenorhabditis elegans from a lethal challenge of S. aureus.
Our studies show that wall teichoic acid confers protection to S. aureus from anionic azo dyes and related compounds, and its inhibition raises the prospect of development of new combination therapies based on this inhibition.
PMCID: PMC3584970  PMID: 22615298
bacteria; antibiotics; S. aureus
18.  Lactobacillus plantarum possesses the capability for wall teichoic acid backbone alditol switching 
Specific strains of Lactobacillus plantarum are marketed as health-promoting probiotics. The role and interplay of cell-wall compounds like wall- and lipo-teichoic acids (WTA and LTA) in bacterial physiology and probiotic-host interactions remain obscure. L. plantarum WCFS1 harbors the genetic potential to switch WTA backbone alditol, providing an opportunity to study the impact of WTA backbone modifications in an isogenic background.
Through genome mining and mutagenesis we constructed derivatives that synthesize alternative WTA variants. The mutants were shown to completely lack WTA, or produce WTA and LTA that lack D-Ala substitution, or ribitol-backbone WTA instead of the wild-type glycerol-containing backbone. DNA micro-array experiments established that the tarIJKL gene cluster is required for the biosynthesis of this alternative WTA backbone, and suggest ribose and arabinose are precursors thereof. Increased tarIJKL expression was not observed in any of our previously performed DNA microarray experiments, nor in qRT-PCR analyses of L. plantarum grown on various carbon sources, leaving the natural conditions leading to WTA backbone alditol switching, if any, to be identified. Human embryonic kidney NF-κB reporter cells expressing Toll like receptor (TLR)-2/6 were exposed to purified WTAs and/or the TA mutants, indicating that WTA is not directly involved in TLR-2/6 signaling, but attenuates this signaling in a backbone independent manner, likely by affecting the release and exposure of immunomodulatory compounds such as LTA. Moreover, human dendritic cells did not secrete any cytokines when purified WTAs were applied, whereas they secreted drastically decreased levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-12p70 and TNF-α after stimulation with the WTA mutants as compared to the wild-type.
The study presented here correlates structural differences in WTA to their functional characteristics, thereby providing important information aiding to improve our understanding of molecular host-microbe interactions and probiotic functionality.
PMCID: PMC3511166  PMID: 22967304
Lactobacillus plantarum; Probiotic; Wall teichoic acid; Lipoteichoic acid; tag and tar genes; Immunomodulation
19.  Interactions between ethylene and auxin are crucial to the control of grape (Vitis vinifera L.) berry ripening 
BMC Plant Biology  2013;13:222.
Fruit development is controlled by plant hormones, but the role of hormone interactions during fruit ripening is poorly understood. Interactions between ethylene and the auxin indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) are likely to be crucial during the ripening process, since both hormones have been shown to be implicated in the control of ripening in a range of different fruit species.
Grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) homologues of the TRYPTOPHAN AMINOTRANSFERASE RELATED (TAR) and YUCCA families, functioning in the only characterized pathway of auxin biosynthesis, were identified and the expression of several TAR genes was shown to be induced by the pre-ripening application of the ethylene-releasing compound Ethrel. The induction of TAR expression was accompanied by increased IAA and IAA-Asp concentrations, indicative of an upregulation of auxin biosynthesis and conjugation. Exposure of ex planta, pre-ripening berries to the ethylene biosynthesis inhibitor aminoethoxyvinylglycine resulted in decreased IAA and IAA-Asp concentrations. The delayed initiation of ripening observed in Ethrel-treated berries might therefore represent an indirect ethylene effect mediated by increased auxin concentrations. During berry development, the expression of three TAR genes and one YUCCA gene was upregulated at the time of ripening initiation and/or during ripening. This increase in auxin biosynthesis gene expression was preceded by high expression levels of the ethylene biosynthesis genes 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylate synthase and 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylate oxidase.
In grape berries, members of both gene families involved in the two-step pathway of auxin biosynthesis are expressed, suggesting that IAA is produced through the combined action of TAR and YUCCA proteins in developing berries. The induction of TAR expression by Ethrel applications and the developmental expression patterns of auxin and ethylene biosynthesis genes indicate that elevated concentrations of ethylene prior to the initiation of ripening might lead to an increased production of IAA, suggesting a complex involvement of this auxin and its conjugates in grape berry ripening.
PMCID: PMC3878033  PMID: 24364881
Aminoethoxyvinylglycine; Auxin; Biosynthesis; Ethrel; Ethylene; Interaction; Vitis vinifera; Ripening
20.  Structure of the linkage units between ribitol teichoic acids and peptidoglycan. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1985;161(1):299-306.
The structure of the linkage regions between ribitol teichoic acids and peptidoglycan in the cell walls of Staphylococcus aureus H and 209P and Bacillus subtilis W23 and AHU 1390 was studied. Teichoic acid-linked saccharide preparations obtained from the cell walls by heating at pH 2.5 contained mannosamine and glycerol in small amounts. On mild alkali treatment, each teichoic acid-linked saccharide preparation was split into a disaccharide identified as N-acetylmannosaminyl beta(1----4)N-acetylglucosamine and the ribitol teichoic acid moiety that contained glycerol residues. The Smith degradation of reduced samples of the teichoic acid-linked saccharide preparations from S. aureus and B. subtilis gave fragments characterized as 1,2-ethylenediol phosphate-(glycerolphosphate)3-N-acetylmannosaminyl beta(1----4)N- -acetylxylosaminitol and 1,2-ethylenediolphosphate-(glycerol phosphate)2-N-acetylmannosaminyl beta(1----4)N-acetylxylosaminitol, respectively. The binding of the disaccharide unit to peptidoglycan was confirmed by the analysis of linkage-unit-bound glycopeptides obtained from NaIO4 oxidation of teichoic acid-glycopeptide complexes. Mild alkali treatment of the linkage-unit-bound glycopeptides yielded disaccharide-linked glycopeptides, which gave the disaccharide and phosphorylated glycopeptides on mild acid treatment. Thus, it is concluded that the ribitol teichoic acid chains in the cell walls of the strains of S. aureus and B. subtilis are linked to peptidoglycan through linkage units, (glycerol phosphate)3-N-acetylmannosaminyl beta(1----4)N-acetylglucosamine and (glycerol phosphate)2-N-acetylmannosaminyl beta(1----4)N-acetylglucosamine, respectively.
PMCID: PMC214871  PMID: 3918002
21.  Biosynthesis of the Unique Wall Teichoic Acid of Staphylococcus aureus Lineage ST395 
mBio  2014;5(2):e00869-14.
The major clonal lineages of the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus produce cell wall-anchored anionic poly-ribitol-phosphate (RboP) wall teichoic acids (WTA) substituted with d-Alanine and N-acetyl-d-glucosamine. The phylogenetically isolated S. aureus ST395 lineage has recently been found to produce a unique poly-glycerol-phosphate (GroP) WTA glycosylated with N-acetyl-d-galactosamine (GalNAc). ST395 clones bear putative WTA biosynthesis genes on a novel genetic element probably acquired from coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS). We elucidated the ST395 WTA biosynthesis pathway and identified three novel WTA biosynthetic genes, including those encoding an α-O-GalNAc transferase TagN, a nucleotide sugar epimerase TagV probably required for generation of the activated sugar donor substrate for TagN, and an unusually short GroP WTA polymerase TagF. By using a panel of mutants derived from ST395, the GalNAc residues carried by GroP WTA were found to be required for infection by the ST395-specific bacteriophage Φ187 and to play a crucial role in horizontal gene transfer of S. aureus pathogenicity islands (SaPIs). Notably, ectopic expression of ST395 WTA biosynthesis genes rendered normal S. aureus susceptible to Φ187 and enabled Φ187-mediated SaPI transfer from ST395 to regular S. aureus. We provide evidence that exchange of WTA genes and their combination in variable, mosaic-like gene clusters have shaped the evolution of staphylococci and their capacities to undergo horizontal gene transfer events.
The structural highly diverse wall teichoic acids (WTA) are cell wall-anchored glycopolymers produced by most Gram-positive bacteria. While most of the dominant Staphylococcus aureus lineages produce poly-ribitol-phosphate WTA, the recently described ST395 lineage produces a distinct poly-glycerol-phosphate WTA type resembling the WTA backbone of coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS). Here, we analyzed the ST395 WTA biosynthesis pathway and found new types of WTA biosynthesis genes along with an evolutionary link between ST395 and CoNS, from which the ST395 WTA genes probably originate. The elucidation of ST395 WTA biosynthesis will help to understand how Gram-positive bacteria produce highly variable WTA types and elucidate functional consequences of WTA variation.
PMCID: PMC3993852  PMID: 24713320
22.  Disturbed Local Auxin Homeostasis Enhances Cellular Anisotropy and Reveals Alternative Wiring of Auxin-ethylene Crosstalk in Brachypodium distachyon Seminal Roots 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003564.
Observations gained from model organisms are essential, yet it remains unclear to which degree they are applicable to distant relatives. For example, in the dicotyledon Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis), auxin biosynthesis via indole-3-pyruvic acid (IPA) is essential for root development and requires redundant TRYPTOPHAN AMINOTRANSFERASE OF ARABIDOPSIS 1 (TAA1) and TAA1-RELATED (TAR) genes. A promoter T-DNA insertion in the monocotyledon Brachypodium distachyon (Brachypodium) TAR2-LIKE gene (BdTAR2L) severely down-regulates expression, suggesting reduced tryptophan aminotransferase activity in this mutant, which thus represents a hypomorphic Bdtar2l allele (Bdtar2lhypo). Counterintuitive however, Bdtar2lhypo mutants display dramatically elongated seminal roots because of enhanced cell elongation. This phenotype is also observed in another, stronger Bdtar2l allele and can be mimicked by treating wild type with L-kynerunine, a specific TAA1/TAR inhibitor. Surprisingly, L-kynerunine-treated as well as Bdtar2l roots display elevated rather than reduced auxin levels. This does not appear to result from compensation by alternative auxin biosynthesis pathways. Rather, expression of YUCCA genes, which are rate-limiting for conversion of IPA to auxin, is increased in Bdtar2l mutants. Consistent with suppression of Bdtar2lhypo root phenotypes upon application of the ethylene precursor 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic-acid (ACC), BdYUCCA genes are down-regulated upon ACC treatment. Moreover, they are up-regulated in a downstream ethylene-signaling component homolog mutant, Bd ethylene insensitive 2-like 1, which also displays a Bdtar2l root phenotype. In summary, Bdtar2l phenotypes contrast with gradually reduced root growth and auxin levels described for Arabidopsis taa1/tar mutants. This could be explained if in Brachypodium, ethylene inhibits the rate-limiting step of auxin biosynthesis in an IPA-dependent manner to confer auxin levels that are sub-optimal for root cell elongation, as suggested by our observations. Thus, our results reveal a delicate homeostasis of local auxin and ethylene activity to control cell elongation in Brachypodium roots and suggest alternative wiring of auxin-ethylene crosstalk as compared to Arabidopsis.
Author Summary
The plant hormone auxin is pivotal for root system development. For instance, its local biosynthesis is essential for root formation and growth in the dicotyledon model Arabidopsis. Thus, increasing interference with auxin biosynthesis results in increasingly shorter roots, partly because of reduced cell elongation. In this study, we isolated a hypomorphic mutant in an auxin biosynthesis pathway enzyme in the monocotyledon model Brachypodium. Counterintuitive, this mutant displays a dramatically longer seminal root, because mature cells are thinner, more elongated and therefore more anisotropic than in wild type. Interestingly, this phenotype can be mimicked in wild type by pharmacological interference with production of a key auxin biosynthesis intermediate, but also by interference with the biosynthesis of another plant hormone, ethylene. The latter controls auxin biosynthesis in Arabidopsis roots. Surprisingly however, auxin levels in the Brachypodium mutant are elevated rather than reduced, because of a simultaneous up-regulation of the second, rate-limiting step of the pathway. Ethylene normally represses this second step, suggesting an inverted regulatory relation between the two hormones as compared to Arabidopsis. Our results point to a complex homeostatic crosstalk between auxin and ethylene in Brachypodium roots, which is fundamentally different from Arabidopsis and might be conserved in other monocotyledons.
PMCID: PMC3688705  PMID: 23840182
23.  HIV-1 Nucleocapsid Protein Switches the Pathway of TAR RNA/DNA Annealing from Loop-Loop “Kissing” to “Zipper” 
Journal of molecular biology  2009;386(3):789-801.
The chaperone activity of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) nucleocapsid protein (NC) facilitates multiple nucleic acid rearrangements that are critical for reverse transcription of the single-stranded RNA genome into double-stranded DNA. Annealing of the trans-activation response element (TAR) RNA hairpin to a complementary TAR DNA hairpin is an essential step in the minus-strand transfer step of reverse transcription. Previously, we used truncated 27-nucleotide (nt) mini-TAR RNA and DNA constructs to investigate this annealing reaction pathway in the presence and absence of HIV-1 NC. In this work, full-length 59-nt TAR RNA and TAR DNA constructs were used to systematically study TAR hairpin annealing kinetics. In the absence of NC, full-length TAR hairpin annealing is ∼10-fold slower than mini-TAR annealing. Similar to mini-TAR annealing, the reaction pathway for TAR in the absence of NC involves the fast formation of an unstable “kissing” loop intermediate, followed by a slower conversion to an extended duplex. NC facilitates the annealing of TAR by ∼105-fold by stabilizing the bimolecular intermediate (∼104-fold) and promoting the subsequent exchange reaction (∼10-fold). In contrast to the mini-TAR annealing pathway, wherein NC-mediated annealing can initiate through both loop-loop kissing and a distinct “zipper” pathway involving nucleation at the 3′/5′ terminal ends, full-length TAR hairpin annealing switches predominantly to the zipper pathway in the presence of saturated NC.
PMCID: PMC2646174  PMID: 19154737
nucleic acid chaperone activity; HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein; TAR RNA/DNA annealing; minus-strand transfer; nucleic acid aggregation; zinc fingers; kissing interactions; zipper pathway
24.  Defect in biosynthesis of the linkage unit between peptidoglycan and teichoic acid in a bacteriophage-resistant mutant of Staphylococcus aureus. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1978;134(2):412-417.
The biosynthesis of the linkage region between peptidoglycan and the ribitol teichoic acid was investigated in the bacteriophage-resistant, teichoic acid-less mutant Staphylococcus aureus 52A5 (Chatterjee et al., J. Bacteriol. 100:846--853, 1969). Membrane preparations of this strain were found to be incapable of forming the first intermediate of the biosynthetic pathway, namely, the transfer of N-acetyl-D-glucosamine (GlcNAc) from UDP-GlcNAc to the acceptor molecule, which presumbably is undecaprenol phosphate (R. Bracha and L. Glaser, Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 72:1091--1098, 1976). The addition of heat-inactivated membrane preparations of S. aureus 52A2 (which normally has ribitol teichoic acid) that had been preincubated with UDP-GlcNAc to membranes of strain 52A5 enabled the synthesis of teichoic acid. These data suggest that the mutational defect in the teichoic acid-less organism is in the synthesis of the first compound of the linkage unit, and this is apparently the reason for its absence in the cell walls.
PMCID: PMC222267  PMID: 149106
25.  An Antibiotic That Inhibits a Late Step in Wall Teichoic Acid Biosynthesis Induces the Cell Wall Stress Stimulon in Staphylococcus aureus 
Wall teichoic acids (WTAs) are phosphate-rich, sugar-based polymers attached to the cell walls of most Gram-positive bacteria. In Staphylococcus aureus, these anionic polymers regulate cell division, protect cells from osmotic stress, mediate host colonization, and mask enzymatically susceptible peptidoglycan bonds. Although WTAs are not required for survival in vitro, blocking the pathway at a late stage of synthesis is lethal. We recently discovered a novel antibiotic, targocil, that inhibits a late acting step in the WTA pathway. Its target is TarG, the transmembrane component of the ABC transporter (TarGH) that exports WTAs to the cell surface. We examined here the effects of targocil on S. aureus using transmission electron microscopy and gene expression profiling. We report that targocil treatment leads to multicellular clusters containing swollen cells displaying evidence of osmotic stress, strongly induces the cell wall stress stimulon, and reduces the expression of key virulence genes, including dltABCD and capsule genes. We conclude that WTA inhibitors that act at a late stage of the biosynthetic pathway may be useful as antibiotics, and we present evidence that they could be particularly useful in combination with beta-lactams.
PMCID: PMC3318382  PMID: 22290958

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