Antibiotics are a major factor in the fight against bacteria. While we have been using various antibiotics for decades, the constant effort to outsmart bacteria is a testament to how powerful these medications are.
With the constant discovery of new genes, there have been several phases of antibiotic development. The first phase targets the cell wall synthesis of bacteria.
Cell walls serve as a protective barrier for cells. In some cases, like with bacteria, it also plays a role in supporting its internal components, such as protein and DNA.
Antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis ultimately cause bacterial cell death as a result of disrupting this wall. There are several ways to do this, but the end goal is the same: kill the bacterium.
This article will discuss some of the most effective antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis and explain how they work.
Three ways that antibiotics can disrupt cell walls
Antibiotics can stop the synthesis of molecules that are required for cell wall production, such as peptidoglycan.
They can also disable the enzymes that contribute to cell wall synthesis, such as mureidydiphenylalanine hydrolase.
Finally, antibiotics can disrupt the structure of the cell wall by targeting chitin, a component of fungal cell walls that is similar to peptidoglycan.
By targeting specific components of the cell wall, antibiotics can be tailored to only disrupt bacterial cells while leaving human cells unaffected. This is an important part of modern antibiotic treatment.
Antibiotics like vancomycin and fidaxomicin target bacterial cells by disrupting their cell walls. These drugs are very effective in treating serious bacterial infections.
Some examples of antibiotics that target cell walls
Penicillin targets the synthesis of a bacterial cell wall component called peptidoglycan. The drug binds to enzymes that contribute to the construction of the peptidoglycan layer, preventing it from being built.
Beta-lactam antibiotics, which include amoxicillin and cefalexin, likewise target cell wall synthesis. They work by targeting components in the cell wall that require β-lactam ring compounds for structure.
This makes them effective against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. However, some bacteria have developed ways to avoid this effect.
Carbapenems are a class of antibiotics that target bacterial cell walls by binding to molecules called peptaminogalactans. These are found in the structure that supports and protects bacteria from external forces like antibiotics.
The process of cell wall synthesis
Cell walls are an integral part of a prokaryotic cell. These walls protect the cell contents and provide structure to the bacterial cell.
Antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis ultimately cause bacterial cell death as a result of the inability to build the wall properly. These antibiotics work by targeting molecules that contribute to the synthesis of the cell wall.
Some antibiotics target amino acids, the building blocks of protein. By preventing the formation of essential proteins in the cell wall, these antibiotics can effectively kill the bacterium.
Other antibiotics target enzymes that contribute to building the wall. Inhibiting these enzymes through antibiotic treatment prevents further synthesis of the cell wall, again resulting in bacterial death.
How do antibiotics target cell walls?
Antibiotics target cell walls in bacteria, but not in humans or other complex life forms. Cell walls are made of a substance called peptidoglycan.
These walls protect the bacteria and help it stay alive and function. Antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis ultimately cause bacterial cell death as a result of disabling the cell wall.
Antibiotics work in different ways, some targeting the DNA processing, others targeting the metabolism, and still others targeting the cell wall. All of these systems work together to kill the bacteria.
The first antibiotics were discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1929. He discovered that his discovery killed the bacterial cells. Later, it was discovered that penicillin kills by interfering with the peptidoglycan structure of the cell wall.
What are the structural components of the cell wall?
The cell wall of bacteria is composed of structural components called peptidoglycan, lipopolysaccharide, and outer membrane. These components are made up of molecules such as nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and phosphorus.
Peptidoglycan is a polymer made of amino acids like glycine and lysine. It functions as a sort of glue that holds the cell wall structure together.
Lipopolysaccharide is a lipid (kind of like fat) and polysaccharide (kind of like sugar) that acts as a shield around the cell wall. It helps the bacterium avoid being attacked by its enemies.
The outer membrane is similar to the cell membrane of bacteria like Escherichia coli. Like the cell wall, it helps protect the bacterium from enemies but also plays a role in resisting antibacterial drugs that target cell walls.
What are the functional components of the cell wall?
The cell wall is made of peptidoglycan, lipids, and proteins. These components together form a structure that protects the bacterial cell and helps it maintain shape.
Certain antibiotics target and disrupt one or more of these components. These antibiotics are classified as cell wall synthesis inhibitors. They work by binding to one of the components of the cell wall and damaging it or eliminating it.
By doing this, the antibiotic allows the immune system to effectively target and destroy the bacteria. However, if there are no more components of the cell wall, the bacterium will die.
This is why these antibiotics can be so effective at treating bacterial infections — they ultimately cause bacterial cell death.
How do antibiotics affect bacterial DNA synthesis?
Antibiotics target specific processes in bacteria that are necessary for growth and survival. Most commonly, antibiotics target protein synthesis in bacteria, preventing them from growing and dividing.
Some antibiotics also target DNA synthesis, the process that allows a bacterium to divide and therefore replicate itself. These antibiotics work by targeting the cell wall of the bacteria, causing its death.
By affecting the cell wall, these antibiotics prevent the transmission of chemical messages between cells. Because of this property, they are classified as structural biosynthetic inhibitors.
Structural biosynthetic inhibitors include metal-based compounds that target atoms that make up the cell wall. Some of these compounds include silver, copper, zinc, and molybdenum.
Why does this happen?
Antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis ultimately cause bacterial cell death as a result of the way they target bacteria. These antibiotics work by blocking the synthesis of the cell wall in bacteria.
Due to the way these drugs work, they not only target and disable harmful bacteria, but also kill them. This is a good thing!
However, as it was mentioned earlier, these antibiotics also affect the healthy cells in your body. This is because all cells in our body have a different structure, but they all have one thing in common: They need to have a strong and stable cell wall to function properly.
When there is too much of a disruption in the cell wall due to antibiotics, then there are serious consequences – one of which being death. This is why you hear about people who have developed complications after taking antibiotics for an infection.