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PLoS One. 2014 Aug 29;9(8):e105953. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105953. eCollection 2014.

Chemical interference with iron transport systems to suppress bacterial growth of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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Key Laboratory of Functional Protein Research of Guangdong Higher Education Institutes, Institute of Life and Health Engineering, College of Life Science and Technology, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China.
School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, China.


Iron is an essential nutrient for the growth of most bacteria. To obtain iron, bacteria have developed specific iron-transport systems located on the membrane surface to uptake iron and iron complexes such as ferrichrome. Interference with the iron-acquisition systems should be therefore an efficient strategy to suppress bacterial growth and infection. Based on the chemical similarity of iron and ruthenium, we used a Ru(II) complex R-825 to compete with ferrichrome for the ferrichrome-transport pathway in Streptococcus pneumoniae. R-825 inhibited the bacterial growth of S. pneumoniae and stimulated the expression of PiuA, the iron-binding protein in the ferrichrome-uptake system on the cell surface. R-825 treatment decreased the cellular content of iron, accompanying with the increase of Ru(II) level in the bacterium. When the piuA gene (SPD_0915) was deleted in the bacterium, the mutant strain became resistant to R-825 treatment, with decreased content of Ru(II). Addition of ferrichrome can rescue the bacterial growth that was suppressed by R-825. Fluorescence spectral quenching showed that R-825 can bind with PiuA in a similar pattern to the ferrichrome-PiuA interaction in vitro. These observations demonstrated that Ru(II) complex R-825 can compete with ferrichrome for the ferrichrome-transport system to enter S. pneumoniae, reduce the cellular iron supply, and thus suppress the bacterial growth. This finding suggests a novel antimicrobial approach by interfering with iron-uptake pathways, which is different from the mechanisms used by current antibiotics.

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