Isoprenoids, a diverse group of compounds derived from the five-carbon building units isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and its isomer dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP), are essential for survival in all organisms. Animals synthesize their isoprenoids from mevalonic acid (MVA), whereas most pathogenic bacteria and the malaria parasites utilize a completely different pathway for IPP and DMAPP synthesis, the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway. Plants use both pathways for the synthesis of isoprenoid precursors. The recent elucidation of the MEP pathway has opened the possibility to develop new strategies against microbial pathogens. Novel immunotherapeutic agents can be developed based on the MEP pathway intermediates known to activate the proliferation of human V-delta-9V-gamma-2 T-cells after infection by many pathogenic bacteria and protozoa. Moreover, the design of specific inhibitors of MEP pathway enzymes (which are highly conserved but show no homology to mammalian proteins) should result in herbicides and drugs with broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity without mechanism-based toxicity to humans. A good example is the cure of bacterial infections and malaria with fosmidomycin, a highly stable inhibitor of the MEP pathway. The use of plants as test systems has led to the identification of additional inhibitors such as ketoclomazone. Biochemical, genetic and crystallographic approaches with the MEP pathway enzymes are now starting to characterize the inhibition kinetics and identify which residues play a structural or catalytic role. Current efforts should eventually contribute to an effective drug designed to fight against microbial pathogens that show resistance to currently available agents.
Keywords: mep pathway, herbicides, antibiotics, isopentenyl diphosphate
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