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J Biomol Screen. 2012 Apr;17(4):535-41. doi: 10.1177/1087057111431606. Epub 2012 Jan 10.

A mechanism-based whole-cell screening assay to identify inhibitors of protein export in Escherichia coli by the Sec pathway.

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  • 1University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.


More than 20% of bacterial proteins are noncytoplasmic, and most of these pass through the SecYEG channel en route to the periplasm, cell membrane, or surrounding environment. The Sec pathway, encompassing SecYEG and several associated proteins (SecA, SecB, YidC, SecDFYajC), is of interest as a potential drug target because it is distinct from targets of current drugs, is essential for bacterial growth, and exhibits dissimilarities in eukaryotes and bacteria that increase the likelihood of selectively inhibiting the microbial pathway. As a step toward validating the pathway as a drug target, we have adapted a mechanism-based whole-cell assay in a manner suitable for high-throughput screening (HTS). The assay uses an engineered strain of Escherichia coli that accumulates beta-galactosidase (β-gal) in its cytoplasm if translocation through SecYEG is blocked. The assay should facilitate rapid identification of compounds that specifically block the Sec pathway because widely, toxic compounds and nonspecific protein synthesis inhibitors prevent β-gal production and thus do not register as hits. Testing of current antibiotics confirmed that they do not generally act through the Sec pathway. A mini-screen of 800 compounds indicated the assay's readiness for larger screening projects.

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