Anti-tubercular derivatives of rhein require activation by the monoglyceride lipase Rv0183

Katherine A. Abrahams, Wei Hu, Gang Li, Yu Lu, Emily J. Richardson, Nicholas J. Loman, Haihong Huang, Gurdyal S. Besra

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The emergence and perseverance of drug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) ensures that drug discovery efforts remain at the forefront of tuberculosis research. There are numerous different approaches that can be employed to lead to the discovery of anti-tubercular agents. In this work, we endeavored to optimize the anthraquinone chemical scaffold of a known drug, rhein, converting it from a compound with negligible activity against Mtb, to a series of compounds with potent activity. Two compounds exhibited low toxicity and good liver microsome stability and were further progressed in attempts to identify the biological target. Whole genome sequencing of resistant isolates revealed inactivating mutations in a monoglyceride lipase. Over-expression trials and an enzyme assay confirmed that the designed compounds are prodrugs, activated by the monoglyceride lipase. We propose that rhein is the active moiety of the novel compounds, which requires chemical modifications to enable access to the cell through the extensive cell wall structure. This work demonstrates that re-engineering of existing antimicrobial agents is a valid method in the development of new anti-tubercular compounds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100040
Number of pages9
JournalThe Cell Surface
Early online date21 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Drug discovery
  • Lipase
  • Mycobacterium
  • Rhein


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