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Treatment of Mycobacterium tuberculosis with antisense oligonucleotides to glutamine synthetase mRNA inhibits glutamine synthetase activity, formation of the poly-l-glutamate/glutamine cell wall structure, and bacterial replication

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New antibiotics to combat the emerging pandemic of drug-resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis are urgently needed. We have investigated the effects on M. tuberculosis of phosphorothioate-modified antisense oligodeoxyribonucleotides (PS-ODNs) against the mRNA of glutamine synthetase, an enzyme whose export is associated with pathogenicity and with the formation of a poly-L-glutamate/glutamine cell wall structure. Treatment of virulent M. tuberculosis with 10 microM antisense PS-ODNs reduced glutamine synthetase activity and expression by 25-50% depending on whether one, two, or three different PS-ODNs were used and the PS-ODNs' specific target sites on the mRNA. Treatment with PS-ODNs of a recombinant strain of Mycobacterium smegmatis expressing M. tuberculosis glutamine synthetase selectively inhibited the recombinant enzyme but not the endogenous enzyme for which the mRNA transcript was mismatched by 2-4 nt. Treatment of M. tuberculosis with the antisense PS-ODNs also reduced the amount of poly-L-glutamate/glutamine in the cell wall by 24%. Finally, treatment with antisense PS-ODNs reduced M. tuberculosis growth by 0. 7 logs (1 PS-ODN) to 1.25 logs (3 PS-ODNs) but had no effect on the growth of M. smegmatis, which does not export glutamine synthetase nor possess the poly-L-glutamate/glutamine (P-L-glx) cell wall structure. The experiments indicate that the antisense PS-ODNs enter the cytoplasm of M. tuberculosis and bind to their cognate targets. Although more potent ODN technology is needed, this study demonstrates the feasibility of using antisense ODNs in the antibiotic armamentarium against M. tuberculosis.

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