Identification of inhibitors of a bacterial sigma factor using a new high-throughput screening assay

S. A. El-Mowafi, E. Sineva, J. N. Alumasa, H. Nicoloff, J. W. Tomsho, S. E. Ades, K. C. Keiler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Gram-negative bacteria are formidable pathogens because their cell envelope presents an adaptable barrier to environmental and host-mediated challenges. The stress response pathway controlled by the alternative sigma factor σE is critical for maintenance of the cell envelope. Because σE is required for the virulence or viability of several Gram-negative pathogens, it might be a useful target for antibiotic development. To determine if small molecules can inhibit the σE pathway, and to permit highthroughput screening for antibiotic lead compounds, a σE activity assay that is compatible with high-throughput screening was developed and validated. The screen employs a biological assay with positive readout. An Escherichia coli strain was engineered to express yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) under negative regulation by the σE pathway, such that inhibitors of the pathway increase the production of YFP. To validate the screen, the reporter strain was used to identify σE pathway inhibitors from a library of cyclic peptides. Biochemical characterization of one of the inhibitory cyclic peptides showed that it binds σE, inhibits RNA polymerase holoenzyme formation, and inhibits σE-dependent transcription in vitro. These results demonstrate that alternative sigma factors can be inhibited by small molecules and enable high-throughput screening for inhibitors of the σE pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-205
Number of pages13
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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