Zinc-containing enzymes, such as carbonic anhydrases (CAs) and metalloproteases (MPs) play critical functions in bacteria, being involved in various steps of their life cycle, which are important for survival, colonization, acquisition of nutrients for growth and proliferation, facilitation of dissemination, invasion and pathogenicity. The development of resistance to many classes of clinically used antibiotics emphasizes the need of new antibacterial drug targets to be explored. There is a wealth of data regarding bacterial CAs and zinc MPs present in many pathogenic species, such as Neisseria spp., Helycobacter pylori Escherichia coli, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Brucella spp., Streptococcus pneumoniae, Salmonella enterica, Haemophilus influenzae, Listeria spp, Vibrio spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Legionella pneumophila, Streptomyces spp., Clostridium spp., Enterococcus spp., etc. Some of these enzymes have been cloned, purified and characterized by crystallographic techniques. However, for the moment, few potent and specific inhibitors for bacterial MPs have been reported except for Clostridium histolyticum collagenase, botulinum and tetanus neurotoxin and anthrax lethal factor, which will be reviewed in this article.
Bacteria encode α-,β-, and/or γ-CA families, but up to now only the first two classes have been investigated in some detail in different species. The α-CAs from Neisseria spp. and H. pylori as well as the β-class enzymes from E. coli, H. pylori, M. tuberculosis, Brucella spp., S. pneumoniae, S. enterica and H. influenzae have been cloned and characterized. The catalytic/inhibition mechanisms of these CAs are well understood as X-ray crystal structures are available for some of them, but no adducts of these enzymes with inhibitors have been characterized so far. In vitro and in vivo studies with various classes of inhibitors, such as anions, sulfonamides and sulfamates have been reported. Only for Neisseria spp., H. pylori, B. suis and S. pneumoniae CAs it has been possible to evidence inhibition of bacterial growth in vivo. Thus, bacterial CAs and MPs represent at this moment very promising targets for obtaining antibacterials devoid of the resistance problems of the clinically used such agents but further studies are needed to validate these and other less investigated enzymes as novel drug targets.