Growth medium-dependent antimicrobial activity of early stage MEP pathway inhibitors

Sara Sanders, David Bartee, Mackenzie J. Harrison, Paul D. Phillips, Andrew T. Koppisch, Caren L. Freel Meyers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The in vivo microenvironment of bacterial pathogens is often characterized by nutrient limitation. Consequently, conventional rich in vitro culture conditions used widely to evaluate antibacterial agents are often poorly predictive of in vivo activity, especially for agents targeting metabolic pathways. In one such pathway, the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway, which is essential for production of isoprenoids in bacterial pathogens, relatively little is known about the influence of growth environment on antibacterial properties of inhibitors targeting enzymes in this pathway. The early steps of the MEP pathway are catalyzed by 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate (DXP) synthase and reductoisomerase (IspC). The in vitro antibacterial efficacy of the DXP synthase inhibitor butylacetylphosphonate (BAP) was recently reported to be strongly dependent upon growth medium, with high potency observed under nutrient limitation and exceedingly weak activity in nutrient-rich conditions. In contrast, the well-known IspC inhibitor fosmidomycin has potent antibacterial activity in nutrient-rich conditions, but to date, its efficacy had not been explored under more relevant nutrient-limited conditions. The goal of this work was to thoroughly characterize the effects of BAP and fosmidomycin on bacterial cells under varied growth conditions. In this work, we show that activities of both inhibitors, alone and in combination, are strongly dependent upon growth medium, with differences in cellular uptake contributing to variance in potency of both agents. Fosmidomycin is dissimilar to BAP in that it displays relatively weaker activity in nutrient-limited compared to nutrient-rich conditions. Interestingly, while it has been generally accepted that fosmidomycin activity depends upon expression of the GlpT transporter, our results indicate for the first time that fosmidomycin can enter cells by an alternative mechanism under nutrient limitation. Finally, we show that the potency and relationship of the BAP-fosmidomycin combination also depends upon the growth medium, revealing a striking loss of BAP-fosmidomycin synergy under nutrient limitation. This change in BAP-fosmidomycin relationship suggests a shift in the metabolic and/or regulatory networks surrounding DXP accompanying the change in growth medium, the understanding of which could significantly impact targeting strategies against this pathway. More generally, our findings emphasize the importance of considering physiologically relevant growth conditions for predicting the antibacterial potential MEP pathway inhibitors and for studies of their intracellular targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0197638
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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