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Chem Biol. 1995 Aug;2(8):553-61.

Determination of the structure of exochelin MN, the extracellular siderophore from Mycobacterium neoaurum.

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Cambridge Centre for Molecular Recognition, University Chemical Laboratory, UK.



Siderophores are compounds produced by bacteria to acquire iron. Exochelin MN, the extracellular siderophore from Mycobacterium neoaurum, is of particular interest because it has been shown to transport iron into M. leprae, which is responsible for the disease leprosy. Exochelins from other species cannot mediate iron transport in M. leprae, suggesting a specific uptake mechanism involving exochelin MN. We set out to determine the structure of exochelin MN and identify the features of the molecule that may account for this specificity.


The structure of exochelin MN was elucidated by a combination of techniques including nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectrometry, derivatization and gas chromatography. Exochelin MN is a peptide, containing the unusual amino acid beta-hydroxyhistidine and an unusual N-methyl group. The peptide coordinates iron(III) octahedrally using its two cis-hydroxamate groups plus the hydroxyl and imidazole nitrogen of the beta-hydroxyhistidine. The three-dimensional structure of the hexadentate exochelin/gallium complex was deduced from NMR data.


Exochelin MN has some structural features in common with other siderophores, but has a unique three-dimensional structure, which is presumably important for its specific activity in M. leprae. Exochelin MN may be a target for drug design in the fight against infection with this pathogen.

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