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Sept 11, 2018

Bacteria anchor to their host cells through their adhesive pili, which must resist the large mechanical stresses induced by the host as it attempts to dislodge the pathogens. The pili of gram-positive bacteria are constructed as a single polypeptide made of hundreds of pilin repeats, which contain intramolecular isopeptide bonds strategically located in the structure to prevent their unfolding under force, protecting the pilus from degradation by extant proteases and oxygen radicals. Here, we demonstrate the design of a short peptide that blocks the formation of the isopeptide bond present in the pilin Spy0128 from the human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes, resulting in mechanically labile pilin domains. We use a combination of protein engineering and atomic-force microscopy force spectroscopy to demonstrate that the peptide blocks the formation of the native isopeptide bond and compromises the mechanics of the domain. While an intact Spy0128 is inextensible at any force, peptide-modified Spy0128 pilins readily unfold at very low forces, marking the abrogation of the intramolecular isopeptide bond as well as the absence of a stable pilin fold. We propose that isopeptide-blocking peptides could be further developed as a type of highly specific antiadhesive antibiotics to treat gram-positive pathogens.(PNAS, 2018; 115: 9222-9227)

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