Characterization of structural elements in native autoinducing peptides and non-native analogues that permit the differential modulation of AgrC-type quorum sensing receptors in Staphylococcus aureus
Staphylococcus aureus uses short macrocyclic peptides (i.e., autoinducing peptides, or AIPs) to assess its local population density in a cell–cell signaling mechanism called quorum sensing (QS). At high cell numbers, this pathogen can initiate many virulent behaviors that allow for the establishment of infection. Binding of the AIP signal to its cognate transmembrane AgrC-type receptor is a critical event in the QS signaling cascade; consequently, interference of AIP:receptor interactions may have the potential to prevent and eradicate certain S. aureus infections. To date, four pairs of AIP:AgrC receptors have been identified in S. aureus, each pair being utilized by a specific S. aureus group (I–IV). Other staphylococcal species also use closely related, but distinct, AIP:AgrC pairs to control QS. We seek to develop non-native ligands capable of intercepting AIP:AgrC binding in each S. aureus group and in related species. As these bacteria may use their respective AIP signal to attenuate the QS systems of other groups/species, such ligands would provide valuable chemical tools to probe possible interference mechanisms in a range of contexts. In the current study, we used solution-phase NMR techniques to characterize the 3-D structures of a set of known native and non-native peptides that have differential modulatory activity in certain AgrC receptors. Analysis of these structures revealed several distinct structural motifs that belay differential activity in selected S. aureus AgrC receptors (i.e., AgrC-I, AgrC-II, and AgrC-III). The results of this study can be leveraged for the design of new synthetic ligands with enhanced selectivities and potencies for these AgrC receptors.