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Biomacromolecules. 2004 May-Jun;5(3):1052-65.

Construction, molecular modeling, and simulation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis cell walls.

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Laboratory of Molecular Modeling and Design (MC 781), College of Pharmacy, The University of Illinois at Chicago, 833 South Wood Street, Chicago, Illinois 60612-7231, USA.


The mycobacterial cell wall is extraordinarily thick and tight consisting mainly of (1). long chain fatty acids, the mycolic acids, and (2). a unique polysaccharide, arabinogalactan (AG). These two chemical constituents are covalently linked through ester bonds. Minnikin (The Biology of the Mycobacteria; Academic: London, 1982) proposed that the mycobacterial cell wall is composed of an asymmetric lipid bilayer. The inner leaflet of the cell wall contains mycolic acids covalently linked to AG. This inner leaflet is believed to have the lowest permeability to organic compounds of the overall cell wall. Conformational search and molecular dynamics simulation were used to explore the conformational profile of AG and the conformations and structural organization of the mycolic acid-AG complex, and overall, an inner leaflet molecular model of the cell wall was constructed. The terminal arabinose residues of AG that serve as linkers between AG and mycolic acids were found to exist in four major chemical configurations. The mycolate hydrocarbon chains were determined to be tightly packed and perpendicular to the "plane" formed by the oxygen atoms of the 5-hydroxyl groups of the terminal arabinose residues. For Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the average packing distance between mycolic acids is estimated to be approximately 7.3 A. Thus, Minnikin's model is supported by this computational study. Overall, this modeling and simulation approach provides a way to probe the mechanism of low permeability of the cell wall and the intrinsic drug resistance of M. tuberculosis. In addition, monolayer models were built for both dipalmitoylphosphatidylethanolamine and dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine, two common phospholipids in bacterial and animal membranes, respectively. Structural comparisons of these cell wall phospholipid membrane models were made to the M. tuberculosis cell wall model.

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