Lysis of Escherichia coli induced by either D-cycloserine, moenomycin, or penicillin G was monitored by studying murein metabolism. The levels of the soluble murein precursor UDP-N-acetylmuramyl-L-alanyl-D-glutamyl-m-diaminopimelyl-D-alanyl- D-alanine (UDP-MurNAc-pentapeptide) and the carrier-linked MurNAc-(pentapeptide)-pyrophosphoryl-undecaprenol as well as N-acetylglucosamine-beta-1,4-MurNAc-(pentapeptide)-pyrophosphoryl- undecaprenol varied in a specific way. In the presence of penicillin, which is known to interfere with the cross-linking of murein, the concentration of the lipid-linked precursors unexpectedly decreased before the onset of lysis, although the level of UDP-MurNAc-pentapeptide remained normal. In the case of moenomycin, which specifically blocks the formation of the murein polysaccharide strands, the lipid-linked precursors as well as UDP-MurNAc-pentapeptide accumulated as was expected. D-Cycloserine, which inhibits the biosynthesis of UDP-MurNAc-pentapeptide, consequently caused a decrease in all three precursors. The muropeptide composition of the murein showed general changes such as an increase in the unusual DL-cross bridge between two neighboring meso-diaminopimelic acid residues and, as a result of uncontrolled DL- and DD-carboxypeptidase activity, an increase in tripeptidyl and a decrease in tetrapeptidyl and pentapeptidyl moieties. The average length of the glycan strands decreased. When the glycan strands were fractionated according to length, a dramatic increase in the amount of single disaccharide units was observed not only in the presence of penicillin but also in the presence of moenomycin. This result is explained by the action of an exo-muramidase, such as the lytic transglycosylases present in E. coli. It is proposed that antibiotic-induced bacteriolysis is the result of a zipperlike splitting of the murein net by exo-muramidases locally restricted to the equatorial zone of the cell
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