Metabolic plasticity for isoprenoid biosynthesis in bacteria

Isoprenoids are a large family of compounds synthesized by all free-living organisms. In most bacteria, the common precursors of all isoprenoids are produced by the MEP (methylerythritol 4-phosphate) pathway. The MEP pathway is absent from archaea, fungi and animals (including humans), which synthesize their isoprenoid precursors using the completely unrelated MVA (mevalonate) pathway. Because the MEP pathway is essential in most bacterial pathogens (as well as in the malaria parasites), it has been proposed as a promising new target for the development of novel anti-infective agents. However, bacteria show a remarkable plasticity for isoprenoid biosynthesis that should be taken into account when targeting this metabolic pathway for the development of new antibiotics. For example, a few bacteria use the MVA pathway instead of the MEP pathway, whereas others possess the two full pathways, and some parasitic strains lack both the MVA and the MEP pathways (probably because they obtain their isoprenoids from host cells). Moreover, alternative enzymes and metabolic intermediates to those of the canonical MVA or MEP pathways exist in some organisms. Recent work has also shown that resistance to a block of the first steps of the MEP pathway can easily be developed because several enzymes unrelated to isoprenoid biosynthesis can produce pathway intermediates upon spontaneous mutations. In the present review, we discuss the major advances in our knowledge of the biochemical toolbox exploited by bacteria to synthesize the universal precursors for their essential isoprenoids.

Jordi Pérez‑Gil and Manuel Rodríguez‑Concepción

Biochem. J. (2013) 452 (19–25)