Targeting Borrelia burgdorferi HtpG with a berserker molecule, a strategy for anti-microbial development

Published in: Cell Chemical Biology

Authors: Dave L. Carlson, Mark Kowalewski, Khaldon Bodoor, Matthew R. Redinbo, Neil Spector, Timothy A.J. Haystead

Duke University

Conventional antimicrobial discovery relies on targeting essential enzymes in pathogenic organisms, contributing to a paucity of new antibiotics to address resistant strains. Here, by targeting a non-essential enzyme, Borrelia burgdorferi HtpG, to deliver lethal payloads, we expand what can be considered druggable within any pathogen. We synthesized HS-291, an HtpG inhibitor tethered to the photoactive toxin verteporfin. Reactive oxygen species, generated by light, enables HS-291 to sterilize Borrelia cultures by causing oxidation of HtpG, and a discrete subset of proteins in proximity to the chaperone. This caused irreversible nucleoid collapse and membrane blebbing. Tethering verteporfin to the HtpG inhibitor was essential, since free verteporfin was not retained by Borrelia in contrast to HS-291. For this reason, we liken HS-291 to a berserker, wreaking havoc upon the pathogen’s biology once selectively absorbed and activated. This strategy expands the druggable pathogenic genome and offsets antibiotic resistance by targeting non-essential proteins.

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