Selective fluorescent β-lactam chemical probes enable the visualization of the transpeptidase activity of penicillin-binding proteins (PBPs) at different stages of bacterial cell division. To facilitate the development of new fluorescent probes for PBP imaging, we evaluated 20 commercially available β-lactams for selective PBP inhibition in an unencapsulated derivative of the D39 strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Live cells were treated with β-lactam antibiotics at different concentrations and subsequently incubated with Bocillin FL (Boc-FL; fluorescent penicillin) to saturate uninhibited PBPs. Fluorophore-labeled PBPs were visualized by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and fluorescence scanning. Among 20 compounds tested, carbapenems (doripenem and meropenem) were coselective for PBP1a, PBP2x, and PBP3, while six of the nine penicillin compounds were coselective for PBP2x and PBP3. In contrast, the seven cephalosporin compounds tested display variability in their PBP-binding profiles. Three cephalosporin compounds (cefoxitin, cephalexin, and cefsulodin) and the monobactam aztreonam exhibited selectivity for PBP3, while only cefuroxime (a cephalosporin) was selective for PBP2x. Treatment of S. pneumoniae cultures with a sublethal concentration of cefuroxime that inhibited 60% of PBP2x activity and less than 20% of the activity of other PBPs resulted in formation of elongated cells. In contrast, treatment of S. pneumoniae cultures with concentrations of aztreonam and cefoxitin that inhibited up to 70% of PBP3 activity and less than 30% of other PBPs resulted in no discernible morphological changes. Additionally, correlation of the MIC and IC50s for each PBP, with the exception of faropenem, amdinocillin (mecillinam), and 6-APA, suggests that pneumococcal growth inhibition is primarily due to the inhibition of PBP2x.
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