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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1995 Nov;39(11):2484-9.

Biogenesis of the mycobacterial cell wall and the site of action of ethambutol.

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Department of Microbiology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523-1677, USA.


The effect of ethambutol (EMB) is primarily on polymerization steps in the biosynthesis of the arabinan component of cell wall arabinogalactan (AG) of Mycobacterium smegmatis. Inhibition of the synthesis of the arabinan of lipoarabinomannan (LAM) occurred later, and thus in the cases of AG and LAM, the polymerization of D-arabinofuranose apparently involves separate pathways. While the synthesis of these arabinans was normal in an EMB-resistant isogeneic strain, the addition of EMB to the resistant strain resulted in partial inhibition of the synthesis of the arabinan of LAM and the emergence of a novel, truncated form of LAM, indicating partial susceptibility of the resistant gene(s) and providing a new intermediate in the LAM biosynthetic sequence. A consequence of inhibition of AG arabinan biosynthesis is the lack of new sites for mycolate attachment and thus the channeling of mycolate residues into a variety of free lipids which then accumulate. The primary biochemical effects of EMB can be explained by postulating separate AG and LAM pathways catalyzed by a variety of extramembranous arabinosyl transferases with various degrees of sensitivity to EMB.

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