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Biochemistry. 2009 Oct 6;48(39):9242-9. doi: 10.1021/bi900503k.

Conformation of the phosphate D-alanine zwitterion in bacterial teichoic acid from nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Oklahoma, 620 Parrington Oval, Room 208, Norman, Oklahoma 73019, USA.


The conformation of d-alanine (d-Ala) groups of bacterial teichoic acid is a central, yet untested, paradigm of microbiology. The d-Ala binds via the C-terminus, thereby allowing the amine to exist as a free cationic NH(3)(+) group with the ability to form a contact ion pair with the nearby anionic phosphate group. This conformation hinders metal chelation by the phosphate because the zwitterion pair is charge neutral. To the contrary, the repulsion of cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) is attributed to the presence of the d-Ala cation; thus the ion pair does not form in this model. Solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy has been used to measure the distance between amine and phosphate groups within cell wall fragments of Bacillus subtilis. The bacteria were grown on media containing (15)N d-Ala and beta-chloroalanine racemase inhibitor. The rotational-echo double-resonance (REDOR) pulse sequence was used to measure the internuclear dipolar coupling, and the results demonstrate (1) the metal-free amine-to-phosphate distance is 4.4 A and (2) the amine-to-phosphate distance increases to 5.4 A in the presence of Mg(2+) ions. As a result, the zwitterion exists in a nitrogen-oxygen ion pair configuration providing teichoic acid with a positive charge to repel CAMPs. Additionally, the amine of d-Ala does not prevent magnesium chelation in contradiction to the prevailing view of teichoic acids in metal binding. Thus, the NMR-based description of teichoic acid structure resolves the contradictory models, advances the basic understanding of cell wall biochemistry, and provides possible insight into the creation of new antibiotic therapies.

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