Atomic construction of antifungal drug confirms uncommon mechanism, opens door to less-toxic derivatives


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Advanced molecular imaging know-how has now mapped the construction of a drug broadly used to deal with fungal infections however whose workings have mystified researchers and physicians for almost 70 years.

In a brand new research, researchers on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the National Institutes of Health described in atomistic element the structure of the drug amphotericin B, a robust however poisonous antifungal agent.

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Seeing the construction gives illumination within the researchers’ quest to formulate less-toxic AmB derivatives, mentioned Dr. Martin D. Burke, a professor of chemistry at Illinois and a member of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, in addition to a medical physician. Burke co-led the research with Chad Rienstra, a Wisconsin professor of biochemistry, and Taras Pogorelov, an Illinois analysis professor of chemistry. The researchers reported their findings within the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

“It’s like we were driving in the dark at night, and all of a sudden we were able to put the lights on. With the clarity of this structure, we can see where we need to go to reach our goal of a less-toxic antifungal drug,” Burke mentioned.

Previously, researchers and physicians thought that AmB killed fungal cells by forming channels within the cell membrane, the outer envelope that encases the cell. However, in 2014, whereas Rienstra was a professor at Illinois, Burke and Rienstra’s group discovered that amphotericin primarily kills cells by robbing the membrane of sterol molecules—ldl cholesterol in human cells and ergosterol in fungal cells. Individual amphotericin molecules aggregated into a bigger construction that absorbed sterol molecules out of cell membranes like a sponge, inflicting the cells to die.

“The ion channel is a secondary action to the antifungal activity. That let us disconnect the ion channel-forming function from the fungicidal activity of amphotericin,” Burke mentioned. His group has utilized the channel-forming skills of AmB as a “molecular prosthetics” method to deal with cystic fibrosis, but better understanding of the fungicidal sterol sponge remained elusive.

“We had some images but no details,” mentioned Agnieszka Lewandowska, a senior analysis scientist at Illinois and first writer of the brand new research. “Now we can really see the part of the structure that we think is responsible for interacting with cholesterol, which we don’t want. So then we could modify that and make sure it only interacts with ergosterol, which we do want.”

Since AmB types a big mixture, the standard molecular imaging methods resembling nuclear magnetic resonance are tough to use. In the brand new research, the researchers developed novel pattern preparation protocols and used a complicated molecular imaging approach known as magic-angle spinning solid-state NMR. They additionally used superior computational modeling strategies to visualise the buildings represented by the NMR knowledge.

The outcome was an image in atomistic element of how small AmB molecules match collectively in a head-to-tail configuration, staggered into a big lattice, leaving a void formed and sized good for sterol molecules. There was additionally some flexibility inside the mixture, probably permitting it to flex a bit to accommodate ldl cholesterol, which is barely bigger than ergosterol.

 “We wanted to know how the AmB sponge fits together to accommodate ergosterol,” Rienstra mentioned. “Just like sponges that absorb water, if it’s dried out and crusty, it doesn’t move well and won’t do a very good job of absorbing sterols. Once it’s a little soft, it does a better job of absorbing because then it’s flexible.”

The detailed construction validates earlier work and in addition gives a street map for synthesizing derivatives, the researchers say.

“We are already in the process of investigating the structures of the AmB complexes with both cholesterol and ergosterol. It opens the door to finally build or find nontoxic derivatives of this important drug and help a lot of people without the horrible side effects that AmB has right now,” Lewandowska mentioned.

Next, the researchers plan to proceed collaborating to synthesize derivatives after which research their atomistic buildings to see how they mixture and work together with each ldl cholesterol and ergosterol, in addition to to discover the potential of different small molecules.

“Amphotericin works differently than any other drug we know about. It doesn’t bind to a protein; it self-assembles into this interesting aggregate,” Burke mentioned. “We saw this whole new area of small molecule interactions. This imaging technique is giving us new tools to understand small molecule interactions and how they can perform higher order, proteinlike functions. We’re finally in a position where we can rationally tap into AmB’s huge functional potential, both for antifungal treatment and for molecular prosthetics.”

Antifungal drug improves key cystic fibrosis biomarkers in clinical study

More info:
Lewandowska, A. et al, Fungicidal amphotericin B sponges are assemblies of staggered uneven homodimers encasing giant void volumes, Nat Struct Mol Biol (2021). ,

Atomic construction of antifungal drug confirms uncommon mechanism, opens door to less-toxic derivatives (2021, December 9)
retrieved 9 December 2021

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