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Clin Microbiol Rev. 2010 Jan;23(1):160-201. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00037-09.

Three decades of beta-lactamase inhibitors.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.


Since the introduction of penicillin, beta-lactam antibiotics have been the antimicrobial agents of choice. Unfortunately, the efficacy of these life-saving antibiotics is significantly threatened by bacterial beta-lactamases. beta-Lactamases are now responsible for resistance to penicillins, extended-spectrum cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems. In order to overcome beta-lactamase-mediated resistance, beta-lactamase inhibitors (clavulanate, sulbactam, and tazobactam) were introduced into clinical practice. These inhibitors greatly enhance the efficacy of their partner beta-lactams (amoxicillin, ampicillin, piperacillin, and ticarcillin) in the treatment of serious Enterobacteriaceae and penicillin-resistant staphylococcal infections. However, selective pressure from excess antibiotic use accelerated the emergence of resistance to beta-lactam-beta-lactamase inhibitor combinations. Furthermore, the prevalence of clinically relevant beta-lactamases from other classes that are resistant to inhibition is rapidly increasing. There is an urgent need for effective inhibitors that can restore the activity of beta-lactams. Here, we review the catalytic mechanisms of each beta-lactamase class. We then discuss approaches for circumventing beta-lactamase-mediated resistance, including properties and characteristics of mechanism-based inactivators. We next highlight the mechanisms of action and salient clinical and microbiological features of beta-lactamase inhibitors. We also emphasize their therapeutic applications. We close by focusing on novel compounds and the chemical features of these agents that may contribute to a "second generation" of inhibitors. The goal for the next 3 decades will be to design inhibitors that will be effective for more than a single class of beta-lactamases.

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