Under certain conditions, the values of the parameters that govern the interactions between the active-site-serine D-alanyl-D-alanine-cleaving peptidases and both carbonyl-donor substrates and beta-lactam suicide substrates can be determined on the basis of the amounts of (serine ester-linked) acyl-protein formed during the reactions. Expressing the ‘affinity’ of a beta-lactam compound for a DD-peptidase in terms of second-order rate constant of enzyme acylation and first-order rate constant of acyl-enzyme breakdown rests upon specific features of the interaction (at a given temperature) and permits study of structure-activity relationships, analysis of the mechanism of intrinsic resistance and use of a ‘specificity index’ to define the capacity of a beta-lactam compound of discriminating between various sensitive enzymes. From knowledge of the first-order rate constant of acyl-enzyme breakdown and the given time of incubation, the beta-lactam compound concentrations that are necessary to achieve given extents of DD-peptidase inactivation can be converted into the second-order rate constant of enzyme acylation. The principles thus developed can be applied to the study of the multiple penicillin-binding proteins that occur in the plasma membranes of bacteria.

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