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Pyrazinamide, a first-line antibiotic used against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, has been shown to act in a pH-dependent manner in vitro. Why pyrazinamide, an antitubercle prodrug discovered more than 65 years ago, exhibits this pH-dependent activity was unclear. Upon entering mycobacterial cells, pyrazinamide is deamidated to pyrazinoate by an enzymatic process and exists in an acid-base equilibrium with pyrazinoic acid. Thus, the effects of total pyrazinoic acid (pyrazinoic acid + pyrazinoate) on M. tuberculosis growth, pH homeostasis, and proton motive force over a range of pH values found in host tissues were investigated. Although M. tuberculosis was able to maintain pH homeostasis over an external pH range of 7.0 to 5.5, total pyrazinoic acid induced growth inhibition increased as culture medium pH was decreased from 7.3 to 6.4. Consistent with growth inhibition, total pyrazinoic acid increased both acidification of the bacterial cytoplasm and dissipation of membrane potential as the environmental pH decreased when added to the bacterial suspensions. The results suggest pyrazinoic acid is the active form of the drug, which acts as an uncoupler of proton motive force, likely a protonophore, providing a mechanistic explanation for the pH dependence of the drug activity.


Fabio L Fontes, Benjamin J Peters, Debbie C Crans, Dean C Crick. The Acid-Base Equilibrium of Pyrazinoic Acid Drives the pH Dependence of Pyrazinamide-Induced Mycobacterium tuberculosis Growth Inhibition. ACS infectious diseases. 2020 Nov 13;6(11):3004-3014

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PMID: 33078607

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