Secretion systems are used by many bacterial pathogens for the delivery of virulence factors to the extracellular space or directly into host cells. They are attractive targets for the development of novel anti-virulence drugs as their inactivation would lead to pathogen attenuation or avirulence, followed by clearance of the bacteria by the immune system. This review will present the state of knowledge on the assembly and function of type II, type III and type IV secretion systems in Gram-negative bacteria focusing on insights provided by structural analyses of several key components. The suitability of transcription factors regulating the expression of secretion system components and of ATPases, lytic transglycosylases and protein assembly factors as drug targets will be discussed. Recent progress using innovative in vivo as well as in vitro screening strategies led to a first set of secretion system inhibitors with potential for further development as anti-infectives. The discovery of such inhibitors offers exciting and innovative opportunities to further develop these anti-virulence drugs into monotherapy or in combination with classical antibiotics. Bacterial growth per se would not be inhibited by such drugs so that the selection for mutations causing resistance could be reduced. Secretion system inhibitors may therefore avoid many of the problems associated with classical antibiotics and may constitute a valuable addition to our arsenal for the treatment of bacterial infections.
Keywords: ATPase, lytic transglycosylase, pilus assembly, protein-protein interactions, secretion systems, transcription factors, twocomponent systems
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