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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 15;102(46):16620-5. Epub 2005 Nov 3.

Deleterious mutations in small subunit ribosomal RNA identify functional sites and potential targets for antibiotics.

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Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, University of Illinois at Chicago, IL 60607, USA.


Many clinically useful antibiotics interfere with protein synthesis in bacterial pathogens by inhibiting ribosome function. The sites of action of known drugs are limited in number, are composed primarily of ribosomal RNA (rRNA), and coincide with functionally critical centers of the ribosome. Nucleotide alterations within such sites are often deleterious. To identify functional sites and potential sites of antibiotic action in the ribosome, we prepared a random mutant library of rRNA genes and selected dominant mutations in 16S rRNA that interfere with cell growth. Fifty-three 16S rRNA positions were identified whose mutation inhibits protein synthesis. Mutations were ranked according to the severity of the phenotype, and the detrimental effect of several mutations on translation was verified in a specialized ribosome system. Analysis of the polysome profiles of mutants suggests that the majority of the mutations directly interfered with ribosome function, whereas a smaller fraction of mutations affected assembly of the small ribosomal subunit. Twelve of the identified mutations mapped to sites targeted by known antibiotics, confirming that deleterious mutations can be used to identify antibiotic targets. About half of the mutations coincided with known functional sites in the ribosome, whereas the rest of the mutations affected ribosomal sites with less clear functional significance. Four clusters of deleterious mutations in otherwise unremarkable ribosomal sites were identified, suggesting their functional importance and potential as antibiotic targets.

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