Antibiotic that inhibits trans-translation blocks binding of EF-Tu to tmRNA but not to tRNA

Neeraja Marathe, Ha An Nguyen, John N. Alumasa, Alexandra B. Kuzmishin Nagy, Michael Vazquez, Christine M. Dunham, Kenneth C. Keiler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


trans-Translation is conserved throughout bacteria and is essential in many species. High-throughput screening identified a tetrazole-based trans-translation inhibitor, KKL-55, that has broad-spectrum antibiotic activity. A biotinylated version of KKL-55 pulled down elongation factor thermo-unstable (EF-Tu) from bacterial lysates. Purified EF-Tu bound KKL-55 in vitro with a Kd = 2 µM, confirming a high-affinity interaction. An X-ray crystal structure showed that KKL-55 binds in domain 3 of EF-Tu, and mutation of residues in the binding pocket abolished KKL-55 binding. RNA-binding assays in vitro showed that KKL-55 inhibits binding between EF-Tu and transfer-messenger RNA (tmRNA) but not between EF-Tu and tRNA. These data demonstrate a new mechanism for the inhibition of EF-Tu function and suggest that this specific inhibition of EF-Tu•tmRNA binding is a viable target for antibiotic development. IMPORTANCE Elongation factor thermo-unstable (EF-Tu) is a universally conserved translation factor that mediates productive interactions between tRNAs and the ribosome. In bacteria, EF-Tu also delivers transfer-messenger RNA (tmRNA)-SmpB to the ribosome during trans-translation. We report the first small molecule, KKL-55, that specifically inhibits EF-Tu activity in trans-translation without affecting its activity in normal translation. KKL-55 has broad-spectrum antibiotic activity, suggesting that compounds targeted to the tmRNA-binding interface of EF-Tu could be developed into new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Virology

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