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1.  Acinetobacter baumannii FolD ligand complexes – potent inhibitors of folate metabolism and a re-evaluation of the structure of LY374571 
The FEBS journal  2012;279(23):4350-4360.
The bifunctional N5,N10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/cyclohydrolase (DHCH or FolD), which is widely distributed in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, is involved in the biosynthesis of folate cofactors that are essential for growth and cellular development. The enzyme activities represent a potential antimicrobial drug target. We have characterized the kinetic properties of FolD from the Gram-negative pathogen Acinetobacter baumanni and determined high-resolution crystal structures of complexes with a cofactor and two potent inhibitors. The data reveal new details with respect to the molecular basis of catalysis and potent inhibition. A unexpected finding was that our crystallographic data revealed a different structure for LY374571 (an inhibitor studied as an antifolate) than that previously published. The implications of this observation are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3655515  PMID: 23050773
antifolate; cyclohydrolase; dehydrogenase; enzyme inhibition; X-ray structure
2.  The AEROPATH project targeting Pseudomonas aeruginosa: crystallographic studies for assessment of potential targets in early-stage drug discovery 
A focused strategy has been directed towards the structural characterization of selected proteins from the bacterial pathogen P. aeruginosa. The objective is to exploit the resulting structural data, in combination with ligand-binding studies, and to assess the potential of these proteins for early-stage antimicrobial drug discovery.
Bacterial infections are increasingly difficult to treat owing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. A major concern is Gram-negative bacteria, for which the discovery of new antimicrobial drugs has been particularly scarce. In an effort to accelerate early steps in drug discovery, the EU-funded AEROPATH project aims to identify novel targets in the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa by applying a multidisciplinary approach encompassing target validation, structural characterization, assay development and hit identification from small-molecule libraries. Here, the strategies used for target selection are described and progress in protein production and structure analysis is reported. Of the 102 selected targets, 84 could be produced in soluble form and the de novo structures of 39 proteins have been determined. The crystal structures of eight of these targets, ranging from hypothetical unknown proteins to metabolic enzymes from different functional classes (PA1645, PA1648, PA2169, PA3770, PA4098, PA4485, PA4992 and PA5259), are reported here. The structural information is expected to provide a firm basis for the improvement of hit compounds identified from fragment-based and high-throughput screening campaigns.
PMCID: PMC3539698  PMID: 23295481
protein structure; Gram-negative bacteria; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; infectious diseases; structure-based inhibitor design
3.  Characterization of Staphylococcus aureus EssB, an integral membrane component of the Type VII secretion system: atomic resolution crystal structure of the cytoplasmic segment 
Biochemical Journal  2012;449(Pt 2):469-477.
The Type VII protein translocation/secretion system, unique to Gram-positive bacteria, is a key virulence determinant in Staphylococcus aureus. We aim to characterize the architecture of this secretion machinery and now describe the present study of S. aureus EssB, a 52 kDa bitopic membrane protein essential for secretion of the ESAT-6 (early secretory antigenic target of 6 kDa) family of proteins, the prototypic substrate of Type VII secretion. Full-length EssB was heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli, solubilized from the bacterial membrane, purified to homogeneity and shown to be dimeric. A C-terminal truncation, EssB∆C, and two soluble fragments termed EssB-N and EssB-C, predicted to occur on either side of the cytoplasmic membrane, have been successfully purified in a recombinant form, characterized and, together with the full-length protein, used in crystallization trials. EssB-N, the 25 kDa N-terminal cytoplasmic fragment, gave well-ordered crystals and we report the structure, determined by SAD (single-wavelength anomalous diffraction) targeting an SeMet (selenomethionine) derivative, refined to atomic (1.05 Å; 1 Å=0.1 nm) resolution. EssB-N is dimeric in solution, but crystallizes as a monomer and displays a fold comprised of two globular domains separated by a cleft. The structure is related to that of serine/threonine protein kinases and the present study identifies that the Type VII secretion system exploits and re-uses a stable modular entity and fold that has evolved to participate in protein–protein interactions in a similar fashion to the catalytically inert pseudokinases.
PMCID: PMC3526858  PMID: 23098276
early secretory antigenic target of 6 kDa system 1 (ESX-1); Gram-positive bacterium; protein kinase; protein secretion; pseudokinase; X-ray crystallography; BAP, biotin-acceptor peptide; BCG, Bacille Calmette–Guérin; BN-PAGE, Blue native PAGE; CV, column volume; DDM, dodecyl maltoside; DOPC, 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine; DTT, dithiothreitol; ESAT-6, early secreted antigenic target of 6 kDa; ESI–Q–TOF-MS, electrospray ionization–quadrupole–time-of-flight MS; ESX-1, ESAT-6 system 1; ess, ESX-1 secretion system; IPTG, isopropyl-β-D-thiogalactopyranoside; LB, Luria–Bertani; MALDI–TOF-MS, matrix-assisted laser-desorption ionization–time-of-flight MS; MWCO, molecular-mass cut-off; PEG3350, poly(ethylene glycol) 3350; rmsd, root-mean-square deviation; SAD, single-wavelength anomalous diffraction; SeMet, selenomethionine; SPR, surface plasmon resonance; TEV, tobacco etch virus; T7SS, Type VII secretion system
4.  Structure of Leishmania major cysteine synthase 
A crystallographic and biochemical study of L. major cysteine synthase, which is a pyridoxyl phosphate-dependent enzyme, is reported. The structure was determined to 1.8 Å resolution and revealed that the cofactor has been lost and that a fragment of γ-poly-d-glutamic acid, a crystallization ingredient, was bound in the active site. The enzyme was inhibited by peptides.
Cysteine biosynthesis is a potential target for drug development against parasitic Leishmania species; these protozoa are responsible for a range of serious diseases. To improve understanding of this aspect of Leishmania biology, a crystallographic and biochemical study of L. major cysteine synthase has been undertaken, seeking to understand its structure, enzyme activity and modes of inhibition. Active enzyme was purified, assayed and crystallized in an orthorhombic form with a dimer in the asymmetric unit. Diffraction data extending to 1.8 Å resolution were measured and the structure was solved by molecular replacement. A fragment of γ-poly-d-glutamic acid, a constituent of the crystallization mixture, was bound in the enzyme active site. Although a d-­glutamate tetrapeptide had insignificant inhibitory activity, the enzyme was competitively inhibited (K i = 4 µM) by DYVI, a peptide based on the C-­terminus of the partner serine acetyltransferase with which the enzyme forms a complex. The structure surprisingly revealed that the cofactor pyridoxal phosphate had been lost during crystallization.
PMCID: PMC3388911  PMID: 22750854
Arabidopsis thaliana; cysteine synthase; Leishmania major
5.  Assessment of Pseudomonas aeruginosa N5,N10-Methylenetetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase - Cyclohydrolase as a Potential Antibacterial Drug Target 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35973.
The bifunctional enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase – cyclohydrolase (FolD) is identified as a potential drug target in Gram-negative bacteria, in particular the troublesome Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In order to provide a comprehensive and realistic assessment of the potential of this target for drug discovery we generated a highly efficient recombinant protein production system and purification protocol, characterized the enzyme, carried out screening of two commercial compound libraries by differential scanning fluorimetry, developed a high-throughput enzyme assay and prosecuted a screening campaign against almost 80,000 compounds. The crystal structure of P. aeruginosa FolD was determined at 2.2 Å resolution and provided a template for an assessment of druggability and for modelling of ligand complexes as well as for comparisons with the human enzyme. New FolD inhibitors were identified and characterized but the weak levels of enzyme inhibition suggest that these compounds are not optimal starting points for future development. Furthermore, the close similarity of the bacterial and human enzyme structures suggest that selective inhibition might be difficult to attain. In conclusion, although the preliminary biological data indicates that FolD represents a valuable target for the development of new antibacterial drugs, indeed spurred us to investigate it, our screening results and structural data suggest that this would be a difficult enzyme to target with respect to developing the appropriate lead molecules required to underpin a serious drug discovery effort.
PMCID: PMC3338484  PMID: 22558288
6.  IspE Inhibitors Identified by a Combination of In Silico and In Vitro High-Throughput Screening 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35792.
CDP-ME kinase (IspE) contributes to the non-mevalonate or deoxy-xylulose phosphate (DOXP) pathway for isoprenoid precursor biosynthesis found in many species of bacteria and apicomplexan parasites. IspE has been shown to be essential by genetic methods and since it is absent from humans it constitutes a promising target for antimicrobial drug development. Using in silico screening directed against the substrate binding site and in vitro high-throughput screening directed against both, the substrate and co-factor binding sites, non-substrate-like IspE inhibitors have been discovered and structure-activity relationships were derived. The best inhibitors in each series have high ligand efficiencies and favourable physico-chemical properties rendering them promising starting points for drug discovery. Putative binding modes of the ligands were suggested which are consistent with established structure-activity relationships. The applied screening methods were complementary in discovering hit compounds, and a comparison of both approaches highlights their strengths and weaknesses. It is noteworthy that compounds identified by virtual screening methods provided the controls for the biochemical screens.
PMCID: PMC3340893  PMID: 22563402
7.  The crystal structure of Leishmania major N5,N10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/cyclohydrolase and assessment of a potential drug target☆ 
Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology  2012;181(2-6):178-185.
Graphical abstract
The crystal structure of Leishmania major N5,N10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/N5,N10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase is used to assess the potential of this bifunctional enzyme as a drug target.
► We report the structure of Leishmania major methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/cyclohydrolase. ► Sequence–structure comparisons are carried out with homologues from kinetoplastids and the human host. ► The potential of this bifunctional enzyme as a drug target is assessed. ► The similarities between parasite and human enzymes suggest a difficult target for drug discovery.
Three enzyme activities in the protozoan Leishmania major, namely N5,N10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/N5,N10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase (DHCH) and N10-formyltetrahydrofolate ligase (FTL) produce the essential intermediate N10-formyltetrahydrofolate. Although trypanosomatids possess at least one functional DHCH, the same is not true for FTL, which is absent in Trypanosoma brucei. Here, we present the 2.7 Å resolution crystal structure of the bifunctional apo-DHCH from L. major, which is a potential drug target. Sequence alignments show that the cytosolic enzymes found in trypanosomatids share a high level of identity of approximately 60%. Additionally, residues that interact and participate in catalysis in the human homologue are conserved amongst trypanosomatid sequences and this may complicate attempts to derive potent, parasite specific DHCH inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3368264  PMID: 22108435
Antifolate; Cyclohydrolase; Dehydrogenase; Drug target; Leishmania; Trypanosoma
8.  Conserved Signal Peptide Recognition Systems across the Prokaryotic Domains 
Biochemistry  2012;51(8):1678-1686.
The twin-arginine translocation (Tat) pathway is a protein targeting system found in bacteria, archaea, and chloroplasts. Proteins are directed to the Tat translocase by N-terminal signal peptides containing SRRxFLK “twin-arginine” amino acid motifs. The key feature of the Tat system is its ability to transport fully folded proteins across ionically sealed membranes. For this reason the Tat pathway has evolved for the assembly of extracytoplasmic redox enzymes that must bind cofactors, and so fold, prior to export. It is important that only cofactor-loaded, folded precursors are presented for export, and cellular processes have been unearthed that regulate signal peptide activity. One mechanism, termed “Tat proofreading”, involves specific signal peptide binding proteins or chaperones. The archetypal Tat proofreading chaperones belong to the TorD family, which are dedicatedto the assembly of molybdenum-dependent redox enzymes in bacteria. Here, a gene cluster was identified in the archaeon Archaeoglobus fulgidusthat is predicted to encode a putative molybdenum-dependent tetrathionate reductase. The gene cluster also encodes a TorD family chaperone (AF0160 or TtrD) and in this work TtrD is shown to bind specifically to the Tat signal peptide of the TtrA subunit of the tetrathionate reductase. In addition, the 3D crystal structure of TtrD is presented at 1.35 Å resolution and a nine-residue binding epitope for TtrD is identified within the TtrA signal peptide close to the twin-arginine targeting motif. This work suggests that archaea may employ a chaperone-dependent Tat proofreading system that is similar to that utilized by bacteria.
PMCID: PMC3290102  PMID: 22289056
9.  New secreted toxins and immunity proteins encoded within the Type VI secretion system gene cluster of Serratia marcescens 
Molecular Microbiology  2012;86(4):921-936.
Protein secretion systems are critical to bacterial virulence and interactions with other organisms. The Type VI secretion system (T6SS) is found in many bacterial species and is used to target either eukaryotic cells or competitor bacteria. However, T6SS-secreted proteins have proven surprisingly elusive. Here, we identified two secreted substrates of the antibacterial T6SS from the opportunistic human pathogen, Serratia marcescens. Ssp1 and Ssp2, both encoded within the T6SS gene cluster, were confirmed as antibacterial toxins delivered by the T6SS. Four related proteins encoded around the Ssp proteins (‘Rap’ proteins) included two specifically conferring self-resistance (‘immunity’) against T6SS-dependent Ssp1 or Ssp2 toxicity. Biochemical characterization revealed specific, tight binding between cognate Ssp–Rap pairs, forming complexes of 2:2 stoichiometry. The atomic structures of two Rap proteins were solved, revealing a novel helical fold, dependent on a structural disulphide bond, a structural feature consistent with their functional localization. Homologues of the Serratia Ssp and Rap proteins are found encoded together within other T6SS gene clusters, thus they represent founder members of new families of T6SS-secreted and cognate immunity proteins. We suggest that Ssp proteins are the original substrates of the S. marcescens T6SS, before horizontal acquisition of other T6SS-secreted toxins. Molecular insight has been provided into how pathogens utilize antibacterial T6SSs to overcome competitors and succeed in polymicrobial niches.
PMCID: PMC3533786  PMID: 22957938

Results 1-9 (9)