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REVIEW: At the Crossroads of Bioenergetics and Antibiotic Discovery

K. Lewisa

Antimicrobial Discovery Center, Department of Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115 USA

Received July 10, 2020; Revised August 19, 2020; Accepted August 19, 2020
Dr. Vladimir Skulachev was my mentor, and his pioneering work in the field of bioenergetics inspired the discoveries described in this review, written in the form of a personal account of events. Examining basic mechanisms of chemiosmotic coupling unexpectedly led us to transenvelope multidrug resistance pumps (MDR pumps) that severely limit development of novel antibiotics. One of the major advances of Skulachev and his group was the discovery of the mitochondrial membrane potential with the use of permeant cations such as TPP+, which served as electric probes. We describe our finding of their natural counterparts in plants, where they act as antimicrobials. The most challenging problems in antimicrobial drug discovery are antibiotic tolerance of chronic infections caused by dormant persister cells; antibiotic resistance, responsible for the current antimicrobial resistance crisis (AMR); and finding novel compounds acting against Gram-negative bacteria, protected by their powerful multidrug resistance pumps. Our study of persisters shows that these are rare cells formed by stochastic fluctuation in expression of Krebs cycle enzymes, leading to a drop in ATP, target shutdown, and antibiotic tolerance. Searching for compounds that can corrupt targets in the absence of ATP, we identified acyldepsipeptide (ADEP) that activates the ClpP protease, forcing cells to self-digest. Growing previously uncultured bacteria led us to teixobactin, a novel cell wall acting antibiotic. Teixobactin avoids efflux by targeting lipid II and lipid III, precursors of peptidoglycan and wall teichoic acid, located on the surface. The targets are immutable, and teixobactin is the first antibiotic with no detectable resistance. Our search for compounds acting against Gram-negative bacteria led to the discovery of darobactins, which also hit a surface target, the essential chaperone BamA.
KEY WORDS: bioenergetics, persisters, antibiotics, acyldepsipeptide, teixobactin, darobactin

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297920120019