Research highlight

Sugar assembly line in tuberculosis

Nature Chemical Biology

March 22, 2010

A key enzyme in the tuberculosis bacterial pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis is involved in a previously unknown pathway for building polysaccharides. The results, published this week in Nature Chemical Biology, offer a potential new drug target against tuberculosis.

The gene glgE was previously demonstrated to be essential in M. tuberculosis; however the biological function of the corresponding enzyme, GlgE, was unknown. Using genetic and biochemical approaches, William Jacobs and colleagues identified four enzymes involved in a pathway that converts a naturally-occurring sugar compound into polysaccharides called alpha-glucans. The scientists found that inactivating one of these enzymes, TreS, was not lethal to the bacteria, indicating that this pathway is not required for growth. However, inactivating GlgE was lethal, causing the buildup of toxic levels of the enzyme's sugar substrate, maltose-1-phosphate. In addition, the scientists found that the combined inactivation of TreS and an enzyme for an alternate alpha-glucan biosynthetic pathway was lethal, highlighting the important roles of alpha-glucan's in M. tuberculosis growth.

Though the biological role of the GlgE pathway remains to be elucidated, GlgE and the alpha-glucan pathways more generally, are possible drug targets that can now be tested in in vivo models of tuberculosis infection.

doi: 10.1038/nchembio.340

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