Increasing bacterial resistance to virtually all available antibiotics causes an urgent need for new antimicrobial drugs, drug targets and therapeutic concepts. This review focuses on strategies to render bacteria highly susceptible to the antimicrobial arsenal of the immune system by targeting bacterial immune escape mechanisms that are conserved in a major number of pathogens. Virtually all innate molecules that inactivate bacteria, ranging from antimicrobial peptides such as defensins and cathelicidins to bacteriolytic enzymes such as lysozyme and group IIA phospholipase A2, are highly cationic in order to facilitate binding to the anionic bacterial cell envelopes. Bacteria have found ways to modulate their anionic cell wall polymers such as peptidoglycan, lipopolysaccharide, teichoic acid or phospholipids by introducing positively charged groups. Two of these mechanisms involving the transfer of D-alanine into teichoic acids and of L-lysine into phospholipids, respectively, have been identified and characterized in Staphylococcus aureus, a major human pathogen in community- and hospital-acquired infections. Inactivation of the responsible genes, dltABCD for alanylation of teichoic acids and mprF for lysinylation of phosphatidylglycerol, renders S. aureus highly susceptible to many human animicrobial molecules and leads to profoundly attenuated virulence in several animal models. dltABCD- and mprFrelated genes are found in the genomes of many bacterial pathogens indicating that the escape from human host defenses by modulation of the cell envelope is a general trait in pathogenic bacteria. This review suggests that inhibitors of DltABCD or MprF should have great potential in complementing or replacing the conventional antibiotic therapies.
Keywords: bacterial immune escape, innate immunity, defensin, cathelicidin, staphylococcus aureus, antibiotic resistance, teichoic acids, phospholipids
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