Computationally and Experimentally Exploring the Type IV Pilus Assembly ATPase for Antivirulence Drug Discovery

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Virginia Tech


Disease caused by antibiotic resistant (ABR) bacteria has become a widespread global public health issue as humanity's existing collection of effective antibiotics dwindles. ABR bacteria are responsible for approximately 5 million deaths worldwide annually, which is predicted to reach 10 million yearly by 2050. Antivirulence therapeutics have been explored in recent times as another approach to tackling the global ABR pandemic by disrupting the function of virulence factors that promote disease development. The bacterial type IV pilus (T4P) is a prevalent virulence factor in many ABR pathogens, contributing to bacterial pathogenesis by facilitating cell motility, surface adhesion, and biofilm formation. Critically, the T4P facilitates early stages of disease, providing a means to invade and colonize a host. T4P assembly is driven by the PilB/PilF motor ATPase that localizes to the cytoplasmic face of the inner membrane to drive pilus biogenesis by ATP hydrolysis. The thesis work here explores computational and experimental methods for the discovery of antivirulence therapeutics targeting the T4P assembly ATPase PilB. A computational model of Chloracidobacterium thermophilum PilB was generated by homology modeling and molecular docking was performed to analyze the binding characteristics of six anti-PilB inhibitory compounds identified in previous studies. Computational docking aligns with the existing body of work and reveals important protein-ligand interactions and characteristics, particularly involving the ATP binding domain of PilB. This work supports the use of PilB in structure-based virtual screening to identify novel compounds targeting PilB. Additionally, through heterologous expression and chromatography methods, the ATPase core of Neisseria gonorrhoeae PilF was successfully expressed and purified as an active ATPase. This work optimized conditions for its ATPase activity in vitro. Additionally, this thesis documents the experimental attempt to express and purify Clostridioides difficile PilB as an active ATPase. Two of the seven C. difficile PilB variant proteins expressed led to soluble protein while one construct remains to be explored. The results of these studies provide insight for future methodology design for antivirulence therapeutic research targeting the T4P assembly ATPase using both in silico and in vitro methods.



PilB, PilF, Chloracidobacterium thermophilum, Virtual Screening, Molecular Docking