Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2002


Published in ANTIMICROBIAL AGENTS AND CHEMOTHERAPY, Jan. 2002, p. 47–54. Copyright © 2002, American Society for Microbiology. Used by permission.


Mycobacterium smegmatis is a fast-growing nonpathogenic species particularly useful in studying basic cellular processes of relevance to pathogenic mycobacteria. This study focused on the D-alanine racemase gene (alrA), which is involved in the synthesis of D-alanine, a basic component of peptidoglycan that forms the backbone of the cell wall. M. smegmatis alrA null mutants were generated by homologous recombination using a kanamycin resistance marker for insertional inactivation. Mutants were selected on Middlebrook medium supplemented with 50 mM D-alanine and 20 μg of kanamycin per ml. These mutants were also able to grow in standard and minimal media without D-alanine, giving rise to colonies with a drier appearance and moreraised borders than the wild-type strain. The viability of the mutants and independence of D-alanine for growth indicate that inactivation of alrA does not impose an auxotrophic requirement for D-alanine, suggesting the existence of a new pathway of D-alanine biosynthesis in M. smegmatis. Biochemical analysis demonstrated the absence of any detectable D-alanine racemase activity in the mutant strains. In addition, the alrA mutants displayed hypersusceptibility to the antimycobacterial agent D-cycloserine. The MIC of D-cycloserine for the mutant strain was 2.56 μg/ml, 30-fold less than that for the wild-type strain. Furthermore, this hypersusceptibility was confirmed by the bactericidal action of D-cycloserine on broth cultures. The kinetic of killing for the mutant strain followed the same pattern as that for the wild-type strain, but at a 30-fold-lower drug concentration. This effect does not involve a change in the permeability of the cell wall by this drug and is consistent with the identification of D-alanine racemase as a target of D-cycloserine. This outcome is of importance for the design of novel antituberculosis drugs targeting peptidoglycan biosynthesis in mycobacteria.