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J Bacteriol. 2012 May;194(10):2614-9. doi: 10.1128/JB.00224-12. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

Inhibition of the sole type I signal peptidase of Mycobacterium tuberculosis is bactericidal under replicating and nonreplicating conditions.

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Infectious Disease Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Proteins secreted by bacteria perform functions vital for cell survival and play a role in virulence in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. M. tuberculosis lepB (Rv2903c) encodes the sole homolog of the type I signal peptidase (SPase). The lepB gene is essential in M. tuberculosis, since we could delete the chromosomal copy only when a second functional copy was provided elsewhere. By placing expression under the control of an anhydrotetracycline-inducible promoter, we confirmed that reduced lepB expression was detrimental to growth. Furthermore, we demonstrated that a serine-lysine catalytic dyad, characteristic for SPase function, is required for LepB function. We confirmed the involvement of LepB in the secretion of a reporter protein fused to an M. tuberculosis signal peptide. An inhibitor of LepB (MD3; a beta-aminoketone) was active against M. tuberculosis, exhibiting growth inhibition and bactericidal activity. Overexpression of lepB reduced the susceptibility of M. tuberculosis to MD3, and downregulation resulted in increased susceptibility, suggesting that LepB is the true target of MD3. MD3 lead to a rapid loss of viability and cell lysis. Interestingly, the compound had increased potency in nonreplicating cells, causing a reduction in viable cell numbers below the detection limit after 24 h. These data suggest that protein secretion is required to maintain viability under starvation conditions and that secreted proteins play a critical role in generating and surviving the persistent state. We conclude that LepB is a promising novel target for drug discovery in M. tuberculosis, since its inhibition results in rapid killing of persistent and replicating organisms.

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