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Title: On the structure and function of multidrug efflux pumps
Author: Neuberger, Arthur
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 923X
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Infections arising from multidrug-resistant pathogenic bacteria are spreading rapidly throughout the world and threaten to become untreatable. The origins of resistance are numerous and complex, but one underlying factor is the capacity of bacteria to rapidly export drugs through the intrinsic activity of efflux pumps. In this work, a summary is provided of our current understanding of the structures and molecular mechanisms of multidrug efflux pumps in bacteria (Chapter 1). The emerging picture of the structure, function and regulation of efflux pumps suggests opportunities for countering their activities. Although this thesis primarily explores structure and function, it also elucidates the hidden regulatory mechanism (post-translational) behind the association of a small protein called AcrZ with the tripartite complex AcrAB/TolC, in connection with the lipid environment, and the resulting changes in the latter's functionality (Chapter 2). A regulatory role of the native membrane lipid environment as well as of small proteins for efflux pump activity have previously been hypothesised. I present the first example of a function-regulating role of the lipid cardiolipin in combination with a small protein binding partner (AcrZ) for the substrate selectivity and transport activity of an efflux pump protein (AcrB). This regulation happens through induced structural changes which have remained unseen so far. Alongside with these results, a nanodisc reconstitution method was experimentally adapted for a structure-function investigation of an efflux pump (complex) using cryo-EM (Chapter 2). Beyond some fundamental regulatory insights, hidden intrinsic transport mechanisms for some transporters have also remained to be explored and studied. The discovery of a mechanism for active influx by a prominent efflux pump model system (Chapter 3) provides hope that this phenomenon is more common amongst multidrug transporters and that it could be utilised for drug discovery purposes. This novel feature explains the contradictory findings on this transporter in the past and raises new questions about the little-known physiological role and evolution of efflux pumps. The development and evolution of antimicrobial resistance has frequently shown to be a multifactorial and fast-moving process. One of these factors is the evolution of pumps itself towards an altered functionality (e.g. towards a broader or altered substrate spectrum or higher efflux rates). Against this background, the role of key carboxylate residues for efflux-energising proton trafficking was investigated for a prominent study model of a secondary-active transporter (Chapter 4). The re-allocation and/or addition of acidic residues was demonstrated to result in the preservation of wild type activity or the generation of hyper-efflux activity, respectively. These findings suggest that rapid emergence of antimicrobial resistance could be enhanced by the 'plasticity' in the location of key carboxylate residues with a role in proton coupling. It also demonstrates the necessity of antimicrobial drug design programmes to anticipate possible trajectories of an adaptive evolution of efflux pump. The 'cryo-EM revolution' has boosted the pace at which new structural and functional insights into multidrug efflux pumps are gained. Nevertheless, in order to derive the structure of individual pump components or of a full assembly, it is sometimes necessary to identify and characterise homologues and mutants, which would allow the application of cryo-EM for obtaining near-atomic maps. Functional analyses presented in this work helped to characterise a homologue and mutants of the MacAB/TolC tripartite complex to justify the obtained protein structures and strategies for further functional characterisation (Chapter 5). Given (1) the unusual stoichiometry of a MacB dimer in complex with a hexameric membrane-fusion protein (MacA), which leads to a seeming leakiness of the assembly, and (2) the fact that substrate has to pass through a narrow aperture in the membrane-fusion protein for extrusion, it is rather surprising that MacB was previously shown to transport an entire toxin. An experimental approach was developed that could enable the structure determination of a toxin-bound full assembly of MacAB/TolC (Chapter 5). Finally, the role of multidrug efflux pumps for the evolution of multidrug resistance is yet to be studied and better explored. For instance, evolutionary trajectories of pump overexpression, as compared to those of regular expression or no expression, are unknown yet could have the potential to reveal useful insights for spread prevention and drug design. The outline of an experimental design with some preliminary validating data is presented in Chapter 6.
Supervisor: van Veen, Hendrik W. ; Luisi, Ben F. Sponsor: Herchel Smith Research Studentship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: cryo-electron microscopy ; membrane proteins ; antibiotic resistance ; multidrug efflux pumps ; multidrug resistance ; structural biology ; nanodiscs ; lipids ; drug efflux ; cardiolipin ; transport assays ; Hoechst