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New Antibiotics? Solving Mystery of How Sulfa Drugs Kill Bacteria Yields 21st Century Drug Development Target

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have discovered a key enzyme structure in bacteria, a finding that lays the foundation for a new generation of antibiotics that are safer and less prone to drug resistance.

More than 70 years after the first sulfa drugs helped to revolutionize medical care and save millions of lives, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have determined at an atomic level the mechanism these medications use to kill bacteria. The discovery provides the basis for a new generation of antibiotics that would likely be harder for bacteria to resist and cause fewer side effects.

The work focused on sulfa drugs and their target enzyme, dihydropteroate synthase (DHPS). Most disease-causing microorganisms need DHPS to help make the molecule folate, which is required for the production of DNA and some amino acids. Working with enzymes from gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, researchers used a variety of techniques to determine for the first time the key intermediate structure DHPS forms during the chemical reaction to advance folate production. The structure also explains at a molecular level how sulfa drugs function and how resistance causing mutations help bacteria withstand them.
 
 

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