The bacterium responsible for tuberculosis (TB), mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), is notoriously difficult to kill. The most commonly used antibiotics, rifampicin and isoniazid, need to be used for extended periods of time (typically 6-24 months) to effectively eliminate infection. In addition, emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains is an increasing problem.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have now identified a new biochemical pathway in Mtb and two novel ways to kill the bacterium. The pathway involves four enzymatic steps in the conversion of the disaccharide, trehalose, to α-glucan mediated by TreS, Pep2, GlgE (which has been identified as a maltosyltransferase that uses maltose 1-phosphate) and GlgB. Focusing on GlgE, the researchers found that blocking the enzyme induced toxic accumulation of maltose-1-phosphate, killing the bacteria in vitro and in a mouse model of infection. Inhibition of another enzyme in the pathway was non-lethal until combined with inactivation of Rv3032, a glucosyltransferase involved in a distinct α-glucan pathway. Inhibition of Rv3032 alone was also non-lethal to the bacteria.
The research validates inhibition of GlgE as therapy for TB but also highlights the potential for targeting two α-glucan pathways – a strategy that potentially leads to reduced incidence of resistance. Both approaches are also distinct from the mechanisms of currently used antibiotics.
The study is published in Nature Chemical Biology.