BPEI-Induced Delocalization of PBP4 Potentiates β-Lactams against MRSA

Melissa A. Hill, Anh K. Lam, Patricia Reed, Madeline C. Harney, Beatrice A. Wilson, Erika L. Moen, Summer N. Wright, Mariana G. Pinho, Charles V. Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


With its high morbidity rate and increasing resistance to treatment, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a grave concern in the medical field. In methicillin-susceptible strains, β-lactam antibiotics disable the penicillin binding proteins (PBPs) that cross-link the bacterial cell wall. However, methicillin-resistant strains have PBP2a and PBP4, which continue enzymatic activity in the presence of β-lactam antibiotics. The activity of PBP2a and PBP4 is linked to the presence of wall teichoic acid (WTA); thus, WTA has emerged as a target for antibiotic drug discovery. In this work, we disable WTA in situ using its anionic phosphodiester backbone to attract cationic branched polyethylenimine (BPEI). Data show that BPEI removes β-lactam resistance in common MRSA strains and clinical isolates. Fluorescence microscopy was used to investigate this mechanism of action. The results indicate that BPEI prevents the localization of PBP4 to the cell division septum, thereby changing the cellular morphology and inhibiting cell division. Although PBP4 is not required for septum formation, proper cell division and morphology require WTA; BPEI prevents this essential function. The combination of BPEI and β-lactams is bactericidal and synergistic. Because BPEI allows us to study the role of WTA in the cell wall without genetic mutation or altered translocation of biomolecules and/or their precursors, this approach can help revise existing paradigms regarding the role of WTA in prokaryotic biochemistry at every growth stage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3813-3822
Number of pages10
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2019


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