The Search for Antibacterial Inhibitors Targeting Cell Division Protein FtsZ at Its Nucleotide and Allosteric Binding Sites.

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The global spread of bacterial antimicrobial resistance is associated to millions of deaths from bacterial infections per year, many of which were previously treatable. This, combined with slow antibiotic deployment, has created an urgent need for developing new antibiotics. A still clinically unexploited mode of action consists in suppressing bacterial cell division. FtsZ, an assembling GTPase, is the key protein organizing division in most bacteria and an attractive target for antibiotic discovery. Nevertheless, developing effective antibacterial inhibitors targeting FtsZ has proven challenging. Here we review our decade-long multidisciplinary research on small molecule inhibitors of bacterial division, in the context of global efforts to discover FtsZ-targeting antibiotics. We focus on methods to characterize synthetic inhibitors that either replace bound GTP from the FtsZ nucleotide binding pocket conserved across diverse bacteria or selectively bind into the allosteric site at the interdomain cleft of FtsZ from Bacillus subtilis and the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. These approaches include phenotype screening combined with fluorescence polarization screens for ligands binding into each site, followed by detailed cytological profiling, and biochemical and structural studies. The results are analyzed to design an optimized workflow to identify effective FtsZ inhibitors, and new approaches for the discovery of FtsZ-targeting antibiotics are discussed.