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J Biol Chem. 1996 Mar 29;271(13):7820-8.

Biosynthesis of the linkage region of the mycobacterial cell wall.

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


The "core" structure of the cell wall of Mycobacterium and related genera is unique among prokaryotes, consisting of a covalently linked complex of mycolic acids, D-arabinan and D-galactan (mycolylarabinogalactan, mAG), which, in turn, is linked to peptidoglycan via a special linkage unit, -alpha-L-Rhap(1-->3)-D-GlcNAc-P-. Little is known of the biosynthesis of this complex, although it is the site of action of several common anti-tuberculosis drugs. Isolated cell membranes of Mycobacterium smegmatis catalyzed the incorporation of [14C]GlcNAc from UDP-[14C]GlcNAc into two glycolipids (1 and 2) and of [14C]Rha from TDP-[14C]Rha into glycolipid 2. These products were characterized as polyprenol-P-P-GlcNAc (glycolipid 1) and polyprenol-P-P-GlcNAc-Rha (glycolipid 2) based on sensitivity of synthesis to tunicamycin, chromatographic characterization of the products of mild acid hydrolysis, and mass spectral analysis of the glycosyl and polyprenyl units. Glycolipids 1 and 2 were shown to be precursors of the linkage unit in polymerized cell wall. The inclusion in the assays of UDP-[14C]Galp and a preparation of cell walls allowed the incorporation of [14C]Gal into two further glycolipids (3 and 4). Preliminary evidence indicates a precursor-product relationship among glycolipids 1, 2, 3, and 4. Thus, the first steps in the biosynthesis of the mycobacterial cell wall involve synthesis of the linkage disaccharide on a polyprenyl-P-P carrier followed by growth of the galactan unit. Assays are thus defined for the screening of new anti-tuberculosis drugs active against cell wall synthesis.

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