Essential roles of methionine and S-adenosylmethionine in the autarkic lifestyle of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Michael Berney, Linda Berney-Meyer, Ka Wing Wong, Bing Chen, Mei Chen, John Kim, Jingxin Wang, David Harris, Julian Parkhill, John Chan, Feng Wang, William R. Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Multidrug resistance, strong side effects, and compliance problems in TB chemotherapy mandate new ways to kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). Here we show that deletion of the gene encoding homoserine transacetylase (metA) inactivates methionine and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) biosynthesis in Mtb and renders this pathogen exquisitely sensitive to killing in immunocompetent or immunocompromised mice, leading to rapid clearance from host tissues. Mtb ΔmetA is unable to proliferate in primary human macrophages, and in vitro starvation leads to extraordinarily rapid killing with no appearance of suppressor mutants. Cell death of Mtb ΔmetA is faster than that of other auxotrophic mutants (i.e., tryptophan, pantothenate, leucine, biotin), suggesting a particularly potent mechanism of killing. Time-course metabolomics showed complete depletion of intracellular methionine and SAM. SAM depletion was consistent with a significant decrease in methylation at the DNA level (measured by single-molecule real-time sequencing) and with the induction of several essential methyltransferases involved in biotin and menaquinone biosynthesis, both of which are vital biological processes and validated targets of antimycobacterial drugs. Mtb ΔmetA could be partially rescued by biotin supplementation, confirming a multitarget cell death mechanism. The work presented here uncovers a previously unidentified vulnerability of Mtb-the incapacity to scavenge intermediates of SAM and methionine biosynthesis from the host. This vulnerability unveils an entirely new drug target space with the promise of rapid killing of the tubercle bacillus by a new mechanism of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10008-10013
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 11 2015


  • Amino acid biosynthesis
  • Bactericidal auxotrophy
  • Host-pathogen interaction
  • Metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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