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Mycobacterial pathogenesis is closely associated with a unique cell envelope rich in complex carbohydrates and unique lipids, among which are the mycolic acids. Mycobacteria also synthesize unique intracellular polymethylated polysaccharides (PMPSs), namely methylglucose lipopolysaccharides (MGLPs), which are acylated with short-chain fatty acids, and methylmannose polysaccharides (MMPs). Since PMPSs modulate the synthesis of long-chain fatty acids in vitro, the possibility of a similar role in vivo and the regulation of mycolic acids assembly have been anticipated. Unlike MGLPs, MMPs have been identified in M. smegmatis and other fast-growing mycobacteria but not in M. tuberculosis, implying an essential role for MGLPs in this pathogen and turning the biosynthetic enzymes into attractive drug targets. The genome of M. tuberculosis was decoded 14 years ago but only recently has the identity of the genes involved in MGLPs biosynthesis been investigated. Two gene clusters (Rv1208-Rv1213 and Rv3030-Rv3037c) containing a few genes considered to be essential for M. tuberculosis growth, have initially been proposed to coordinate MGLPs biosynthesis. Among these genes, only the product of Rv1208 for the first step in the MGLPs pathway has, so far, been crystallized and its three-dimensional structure been determined. However, recent results indicate that at least three additional clusters may be involved in this pathway. The functional assignment of authentic roles to some of these M. tuberculosis H37Rv genes sheds new light on the intricacy of MGLPs biogenesis and renewed interest on their biological role.


Vitor Mendes, Ana Maranha, Susana Alarico, Nuno Empadinhas. Biosynthesis of mycobacterial methylglucose lipopolysaccharides. Natural product reports. 2012 Aug;29(8):834-44

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PMID: 22678749

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