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Title: Rational development of new inhibitors of lipoteichoic acid synthase
Author: Chee, Xavier
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 1044
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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Staphyloccocus aureus is an opportunisitic pathogen that causes soft skin and tissue infections (SSTI) such as endocarditis, osteomyelitis and meningitis. In recent years, the re-emergence of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus such as MRSA presents a formidable challenge for infection management worldwide. Amidst this global epidemic of antimicrobial resistance, several research efforts have turned their focus towards exploiting the cell-wall biosynthesis pathway for novel anti-bacterial targets. Recently, the lipoteichoic acid (LTA) biosynthesis pathway has emerged as a potential anti-bacterial target. LTA is an anionic polymer found on the cell envelope of Gram-positive bacteria. It comprises of repeating units of glycerol-phosphate (GroP) and is important for bacterial cell physiology and virulence. For example, it is critically involved in regulating ion homeostasis, cell division, host colonization and immune system invasion. Several reports showed that bacteria lacking LTA are unable to grow. At the same time, they suffer from severe cell division defects and also exhibit aberrant cell morphologies. The key protein involved in the LTA biosynthesis pathway is the Lipoteichoic acid synthase (LtaS). LtaS is located on the cell membrane of Gram-positive bacteria and can be divided into two parts: a transmembrane domain and an extra-cellular domain responsible for its enzymatic activity (annotated eLtaS). Given that LtaS is important for bacterial survival and there are no known eLtaS homologues in eukaryotic cells, this protein is an attractive antibacterial target. In 2013, a small molecule eLtaS inhibitor (termed 1771) was discovered. Although 1771 was able to deplete LTA production, the binding mechanism of 1771 to eLtaS remains unknown. Additionally, 1771 could only prolong the survival of infected mice temporarily because of its in vivo instability. Therefore, the need for finding more potent and metabolically stable inhibitors of eLtaS still remains. Computational-aided drug design (CADD) is a cost-effective and useful approach that has been widely integrated into the drug discovery process. The protein eLtaS lends itself to be a good target for CADD since its crystal structure and a known inhibitor (with limited structure-activity data) is available. In this work, I have targeted eLtaS using CADD methodology followed by prospective validation using various biophysical, biochemical and microbiological assays. My project can broadly be sub-divided into three phases: (a) identification of small molecule binding “hot spots”, (b) optimization of existing inhibitor and (c) discovery of new hits. Through a systematic use of different computational approaches, I modelled a plausible 1771-bound eLtaS complex and used the structural insights to generate new inhibitors against eLtaS. To this end, I discovered EN-19, which is a more potent inhibitor of eLtaS. Additionally, by targeting transient cryptic pockets predicted by Molecular Dynamic simulations, I have discovered a new inhibitor chemotype that seems to exhibit a different mode of action against eLtaS. Taken together, my work presents a computational platform for future drug design against eLtaS and reinforces the notion that targeting eLtaS is a viable strategy to combat Gram-positive infections.
Supervisor: Rahman, Taufiq Sponsor: Islamic Development Bank-Cambridge Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Virtual screening ; Drug discovery ; Antibiotics ; Antimicrobial resistance ; Computational drug design