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16.01.2023 10:54

Sugar-based inhibitors disarm the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Dr. Charlotte Schwenner Presse und Kommunikation
Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

    Researchers from Saarbrücken and Freiburg develop promising active ingredient to combat multi-resistant bacteria.

    The hospital pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa requires the sugar-binding proteins LecA and LecB to form biofilms as well as to attach to and penetrate host cells. These so-called lectins are therefore suitable targets for active substances to combat Pseudomonas infections. Researchers from Saarbrücken and Freiburg have now produced potent inhibitors for LecA and LecB that are more stable and soluble than previous drug candidates. These optimized molecules have been tested in virulence assays and show promising properties for the development of new drugs.

    Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a Gram-negative bacterium that belongs to the group of highly antibiotic-resistant and clinically relevant ESKAPE pathogens. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is one of the critical priority pathogens because it is often resistant to antibiotics and lacks treatment options. P. aeruginosa produces two lectins, LecA and LecB, which it uses to bind to sugar molecules. It requires them for adhesion to host cells and for biofilm formation - two properties that are critical to the bacterium's pathogenicity. This makes these lectins promising targets for synthetic agents that counteract the bacterium's disease-causing properties and bypass its antimicrobial resistance.

    Prof Alexander Titz's research group at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) and Saarland University is investigating molecules to inhibit bacterial lectins, particularly from P. aeruginosa. HIPS is a site of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in collaboration with Saarland University. The group, which is also part of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), had already developed highly potent LecA inhibitors, but they had low water solubility and limited stability, which prevented their further biological analysis. The current results come from a joint research project with Prof Winfried Römer's group at the University of Freiburg and the Cluster of Excellence CIBSS - Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies. Römer and his team are investigating how the lectins LecA and LecB of P. aeruginosa influence physiological processes such as immune response and wound healing, and how this can be prevented by inhibitors.

    The researchers have now succeeded in significantly improving the chemical properties of previous lectin inhibitors. The targeted modification of linker regions within the molecules increased their solubility by a factor of 1000 and enhanced their chemical and metabolic stability. The results of the collaborative project have been published as a “hot paper” in the renowned journal Angewandte Chemie.

    The greatly increased solubility of the lectin inhibitors made it possible to evaluate their biological effect in cell-based assays. "We investigated the influence of the inhibitors on the biological function of LecA and the invasiveness of P. aeruginosa," Römer explains. "We were able to show that even relatively low concentrations of the LecA inhibitor are sufficient to prevent P. aeruginosa from invading host cells." Thus, the inhibitors effectively block the binding of LecA to human cells. "In addition to these positive results in the cell assays, we also saw that the new inhibitor can be detected in urine for a long time, potentially opening up further treatment options for urinary tract infections," said Titz, head of the Chemical Biology of Carbohydrates research group at HIPS.

    These results show that the developed drug candidates have the potential to circumvent antibiotic resistance of dangerous pathogens. In particular, inhibition of LecA-mediated virulence offers a promising starting point for new agents to treat often highly problematic infections with P. aeruginosa. The current results are a first step and open the door for the future development of new treatment options.

    The press release is also available on our website:

    Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland:
    HIPS in Saarbrücken was founded in 2009 as a site of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in collaboration with Saarland University. Researchers here are looking in particular for new active ingredients against infectious diseases, optimizing them for use in humans and investigating how they can best be transported to their site of action in the human body.

    Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research:
    Scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and its other sites in Germany are engaged in the study of bacterial and viral infections and the body’s defence mechanisms. They have a profound expertise in natural compound research and its exploitation as a valuable source for novel anti-infectives. As member of the Helmholtz Association and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) the HZI performs translational research laying the ground for the development of new treatments and vaccines against infectious diseases.

    German Center for Infection Research
    At the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), more than 500 scientists from 35 institutions nationwide jointly develop new approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. Their aim is to translate research results into clinical practice rapidly and effectively. With this, the DZIF paves the way for developing new vaccines, diagnostics and drugs in the fight against infections.

    Excellence Cluster CIBSS
    The objective of the Excellence Cluster CIBSS – Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies at the University of Freiburg is to gain comprehensive understanding of biological signalling procedures regardless of scale, from interactions between individual molecules and cells to processes within organs and entire organisms. The researchers deploy the knowledge they obtain to develop strategies for targeted signal control. These technologies pave the way for new research findings and enable innovations in medicine and plant sciences.

    Dr Yannic Nonnenmacher
    PR Manager HIPS
    +49 681 98806-4500


    Zahorska, E., Rosato, F., Stober, K., Kuhaudomlarp, S., Meiers, J., Hauck, D., Reith, D., Gillon, E., Rox, K., Imberty, A., Römer, W.,* Titz, A.* (2022) Neutralizing the Impact of the Virulence Factor LecA from Pseudomonas aeruginosa on Human Cells with New Glycomimetic Inhibitors, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl., doi: 10.1002/anie.202215535.


    Merkmale dieser Pressemitteilung:
    Journalisten, Wirtschaftsvertreter, Wissenschaftler
    Biologie, Chemie, Medizin



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