Scientists discover two-component lantibiotic with therapeutic potential

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The discovery and preparation of a naturally occurring antibiotic could open the door to new therapeutic drugs for treating nasty infections.

The rapid spread of drug-resistant bacterial strains poses a persistent threat to human health, and requires new sources of antibiotics to treat infections. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are tackling this problem by discovering and preparing natural antibiotics called lantibiotics.

Lantibiotics are a class of very potent antimicrobial compounds whose antimicrobial properties are attributed to their structure. They possess unusual sulfur bridged rings that provide structural rigidity for binding their cellular targets. Lantibiotics are commonly used in the food industry to inhibit the growth of microorganisms.

"Having the ability to make analogs of these naturally occurring antibiotics gives us the flexibility to look for improvements in properties such as toxicity, biostability and bioavailability," said Wilfred van der Donk, a William H. and Janet Lycan Professor of Chemistry at the U. of I. He is a corresponding author of a paper that will be posted online this week ahead of regular publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In previous work, van der Donk first identified the molecular activity of an enzyme (LctM) responsible for naturally turning a small protein into a lantibiotic. That discovery, reported in the journal Science in 2004, involved lacticin 481, a lantibiotic produced by several strains of Lactococcus lactis, a bacterium used in cheese production.

In March 2006, van der Donk's team reported, again in Science, the synthesis of the lantibiotic nisin. The most studied lantibiotic, nisin has been used as a food preservative for more than 40 years without the development of significant antibiotic resistance.

Then, in the Oct. 26 issue of Chemistry and Biology, the team demonstrated that LctM could accept subst

Contact: James E. Kloeppel
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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