Mupirocin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that acts predominantly against Gram-positive bacteria. It is produced by Pseudomonas fluorescens NCIMB 10586 and has been clinically used to treat primary and secondary skin infections and to eradicate nasal colonisation of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains. Mupirocin inhibits protein synthesis by blocking the active site of isoleucyl-tRNA synthetase (IleRS), which prevents the enzyme from binding isoleucine and ATP for Ile-tRNAIle synthesis. Two types of IleRS are found in bacteria — while IleRS1 is susceptible to mupirocin inhibition, IleRS2 provides resistance to cells. These two types belong to distinct evolutionary clades which likely emerged from an early gene duplication in bacteria. Resistance in IleRS2 is based on the loss of interactions that govern mupirocin binding to IleRS1, such as hydrogen bonding to the carboxylate moiety of mupirocin. IleRS2 enzymes with Ki in the millimolar range have recently been discovered. These hyper-resistant IleRS2 variants surprisingly have a non-canonical version of the catalytic motif, which serves as a signature motif of class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases to which IleRS belongs. The non-canonical motif, in which the 1st and 3rd positions are swapped, is key for hyper-resistance and can be accommodated without abolishing enzyme activity in IleRS2 but not in IleRS1. Clinical use of mupirocin led to the emergence of resistance in S. aureus. Low-level resistance arises by mutations of the housekeeping IleRS1, while high-level resistance develops by the acquisition of the resistant IleRS2 on a plasmid. There is no evidence that hyper-resistant variants have been found in clinical isolates.

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