DD-ligases catalyze the synthesis of the D-Ala-D-Ala and D-Ala-D-Ser dipeptides or the D-Ala-D-Lac depsipeptide in an early step of peptidoglycan synthesis. Their function is essential for bacterial growth and specific to bacteria, making them attractive targets for the development of novel antibiotics. This review examines the biochemical and structural features of these enzymes and presents the main families of inhibitors described so far. Over the last 20 years, 7 structures of DD-ligases have been solved by X-ray crystallography, giving a detailed view of the general topology of the active site and of the residues in the catalytic pocket that play a central role in substrate recognition. This has paved the way to the rational design of inhibitors, which can be classified as (i) analogues of substrates, (ii) analogues of the product of the reaction, (iii) analogues of the transition state, and (iv) original scaffolds discovered by screening or by rational computer-aided design. The three first strategies have led to molecules that are polar by nature and have therefore poor access to their cytosolic target. The fourth one is potentially most promising as it yields more diverse structures. The most active molecules show affinity constants in the μM range, but microbiological evaluation remains scarce (typical MIC 1-8 mg/L for the tested compounds). These data strongly suggest targeting DD-ligases is a promising approach for discovery of new antibiotics. Future research should, however, aim at finding more potent inhibitors endowed with the appropriate pharmacokinetic properties that ensure access to their intracellular target.
Keywords: DD-ligase, antibiotic, peptidoglycan, D-cycloserine, phosphinophosphate
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