“Telaprevir is the first previously clinically approved compound that has been shown to inhibit chaperone function in bacteria,” said Tania Lupoli, assistant professor of chemistry at NYU and the study’s senior author.
“Our research marks a vital step in developing small molecule chaperone inhibitors that can be used in bacteria to increase the power of antibiotics and slow down the evolution of antibiotic resistance.”
In this study, the researchers sought to identify small molecules that could turn off the function of chaperones in disease-causing bacteria. Focusing on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, they screened roughly 25,000 compoundsincluding 1,300 approved drugsto identify small molecules that inhibit chaperones in mycobacteria.
In a series of experiments using model mycobacteria in the lab, they demonstrated that telaprevir binds to mycobacterial chaperones and blocks their ability to fold proteins.
This made the mycobacteria more sensitive to antibiotics, including streptomycin, a commonly prescribed tuberculosis drug.
Chaperones can also stabilize the proteins in the cell that cause antibiotic resistance, so using telaprevir to block chaperone function lowered mycobacteria’s resistance against the first-line tuberculosis drug rifampicin.
“In the future, we envision that small molecule chaperone inhibitors could be used in combination with antibiotics to enhance antibiotic potency and lower resistance,” said Lupoli.
While the researchers were excited to identify telaprevir as a chaperone inhibitor, they are continuing to explore hundreds of telaprevir analogscompounds that are similar in molecular structureto determine if others bind more tightly to chaperones, a key factor for moving the research into animal or clinical studies.
More research can explore how to target chaperone inhibitors to only shut down certain chaperonesfor instance, blocking chaperones in bacteria, but not human cells.
“Our work contributes to a small but growing list of small molecules that block the function of chaperones and provides a promising avenue for ongoing study of the role that telaprevir and its analogs can play when administered with antibiotics,” said Lupoli.