RNase HI Depletion Strongly Potentiates Cell Killing by Rifampicin in Mycobacteria.

Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, Volume: 66, Issue: 10
October 18, 2022
Abeer Al-Zubaidi A, Chen-Yi Cheung CY, Gregory M Cook GM, George Taiaroa G, Valerie Mizrahi V, J Shaun Lott JS, Stephanie S Dawes SS

Multidrug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis (TB) is defined by the resistance of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative organism, to the first-line antibiotics rifampicin and isoniazid. Mitigating or reversing resistance to these drugs offers a means of preserving and extending their use in TB treatment. R-loops are RNA/DNA hybrids that are formed in the genome during transcription, and they can be lethal to the cell if not resolved. RNase HI is an enzyme that removes R-loops, and this activity is essential in M. tuberculosis: knockouts of , the gene encoding RNase HI, are nonviable. This essentiality makes it a candidate target for the development of new antibiotics. In the model organism Mycolicibacterium smegmatis, RNase HI activity is provided by two enzymes, RnhA and RnhC. We show that the partial depletion of RNase HI activity in M. smegmatis, by knocking out either of the genes encoding RnhA or RnhC, led to the accumulation of R-loops. The sensitivity of the knockout strains to the antibiotics moxifloxacin, streptomycin, and rifampicin was increased, the latter by a striking near 100-fold. We also show that R-loop accumulation accompanies partial transcriptional inhibition, suggesting a mechanistic basis for the synergy between RNase HI depletion and rifampicin. A model of how transcriptional inhibition can potentiate R-loop accumulation is presented. Finally, we identified four small molecules that inhibit recombinant RnhC activity and that also potentiated rifampicin activity in whole-cell assays against M. tuberculosis, supporting an on-target mode of action and providing the first step in developing a new class of antimycobacterial drug.