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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1995 Dec;39(12):2620-4.

Can penicillins and other beta-lactam antibiotics be used to treat tuberculosis?

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco 94143, USA.


An increase in the number of tuberculosis cases caused by multiple-drug-resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis has stimulated search for new antituberculous agents. Beta-lactam antibiotics, traditionally regarded as ineffective against tuberculosis, merit consideration. Four major penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs) with approximate molecular sizes of 94, 82, 52, and 37 kDa were detected by fluorography of [3H]penicillin-radiolabeled membrane proteins prepared from M. tuberculosis H37Ra. The presence of membrane-associated beta-lactamase precluded the use of membranes for assaying the binding affinities of beta-lactam antibiotics. Therefore, ampicillin affinity chromatography was used to purify these four PBPs from crude membranes in order to assay the binding affinities of beta-lactam antibiotics. Ampicillin, amoxicillin, and imipenem, beta-lactam antibiotics previously reported to be active in vitro against M. tuberculosis, bound to M. tuberculosis PBPs at therapeutically achievable concentrations. Binding of the 94-, 82-, and 52-kDa PBPs, but not the 37-kDa PBP, was associated with antibacterial activity, suggesting that these PBPs are the critical targets. Studies of mycobacterial cell wall permeability, which was assayed with a panel of reference cephalosporins and penicillins with different charge positivities, indicated that the rate of penetration of beta-lactam antibiotics to the target PBPs could not account for resistance. Resistance could be reversed with the beta-lactamase inhibitors clavulanate or sulbactam or could be circumvented by the use of a beta-lactamase-stable drug, imipenem, indicating that mycobacterial beta-lactamase, probably in conjunction with slow penetration, is a major determinant of M. tuberculosis resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics. These findings confirm in vitro data that M. tuberculosis is susceptible to some beta-lactam antibiotics. Further evaluation of these drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis in animal models and in clinical trials is warranted.

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