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Future Microbiol. 2010 Oct;5(10):1581-97. doi: 10.2217/fmb.10.112.

Protein export systems of Mycobacterium tuberculosis: novel targets for drug development?

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  • 1Department of Microbiology & Immunology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB # 7290, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Protein export is essential in all bacteria and many bacterial pathogens depend on specialized protein export systems for virulence. In Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the etiological agent of the disease tuberculosis, the conserved general secretion (Sec) and twin-arginine translocation (Tat) pathways perform the bulk of protein export and are both essential. M. tuberculosis also has specialized export pathways that transport specific subsets of proteins. One such pathway is the accessory SecA2 system, which is important for M. tuberculosis virulence. There are also specialized ESX export systems that function in virulence (ESX-1) or essential physiologic processes (ESX-3). The increasing prevalence of drug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains makes the development of novel drugs for tuberculosis an urgent priority. In this article, we discuss our current understanding of the protein export systems of M. tuberculosis and consider the potential of these pathways to be novel targets for tuberculosis drugs.

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