Enterococci (e.g. E. faecalis and E. faecium) cause severe and often fatal nosocomial and community-acquired infections. Therapy of enterococcal infections is frequently compromised by their decreased susceptibility (increased resistance) to many classes of antibiotics, including ?-lactams. This resistance is overwhelmingly attributable to the expression of low-affinity penicillin-binding proteins PBP4 (E. faecalis) and PBP5 (E. faecium), both of which are members of a family of low-affinity PBPs that also includes PBP2a from methicillin-resistant S. aureus. In the clinical setting, E. faecium strains show widespread high-level penicillin resistance due to amino acid substitutions, while similar highly-resistant E. faecalis strains are rare. Building on our extensive structural and functional preliminary data, we will leverage the unique synergy of scientific expertise of the investigators to answer the following key fundamental questions: how do low affinity PBPs bind and catalyze transpeptidation, how do sequence changes in these PBPs further reduce their affinity for ?-lactam antibiotics while retaining their ability to synthesize peptidoglycan, and what cellular factors beyond low affinity PBP substitutions augment levels of resistance expressed by clinical strains? To answer these questions, we will pursue four specific aims that integrate structural biology, chemical synthesis, biochemistry and microbiology.
Aim 1 will use structural biology, especially biomolecular NMR spectroscopy, to determine why PBP5 is an inferior target of ?-lactam antibiotics. Our extensive preliminary data shows that this tour-de-force effort (at ~75 kDa, PBP5 is the second largest single-chain protein studied using NMR spectroscopy) is not only feasible but, combined with our extensive crystallographic data, will reveal why ?-lactams only poorly inhibit PBP5 and, by extension, the entire family of low affinity PBPs.
Aims 2 and 3 will use newly developed chemical synthesis schemes coupled with structure and dynamics (NMR spectroscopy) to determine how, at a molecular level, these PBPs catalyze transpeptidation. We have achieved high-yield syntheses of PBP5-specific pentapeptide precursors and variants of lipid II, enabling us to use NMR spectroscopy and transpeptidase assays to determine how substrates bind and ultimately become cross-linked by PBP5. The impact of resistance-causing mutations in PBP5 on transpeptidase activity will also be determined.
Aim 4 will identify the orthogonal factors that contribute to resistance in E. faecalis. Our preliminary data suggest that E. faecalis PBP2 likely contributes to ?-lactam resistance in the highly resistant LS4828 E. faecalis strain. We will quantify the contribution of PBP2 to LS4828 ?-lactam resistance. In parallel, we will use BioID (proximity labeling) to identify PBP4 and PBP2 interacting proteins (our recently published crystallographic data revealed that the PBP4 N-terminal domains are dynamic and are likely involved in protein interactions). Together, these studies will reveal the structural and functional details of enterococcal low-affinity PBP function, providing critical data upon which to base future strategies for inhibiting these important enzymes.

Public Health Relevance

?-lactam resistance in enterococci is an essential clinical problem and a perplexing scientific question. The goal of this proposal is to determine the structural and functional characteristics of the low-affinity PBPs (PBP4 and PBP5) that confer their ability to resist inhibition by ??lactams while at the same time retaining full endogenous enzymatic function. These fundamental data are essential for the design of novel antibiotics that can effectively treat these highly resistant nosocomial infections.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Drug Discovery and Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance Study Section (DDR)
Program Officer
Huntley, Clayton C
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Rhode Island Hospital
United States
Zip Code