The cell envelope of Mycobacterium tuberculosis contains glycans and lipids of peculiar structure that play prominent roles in the biology and pathogenesis of tuberculosis. Consequently, the chemical structure and biosynthesis of the cell wall have been intensively investigated in order to identify novel drug targets. Here, we validate that the function of phosphatidyl-myo-inositol mannosyltransferase PimA is vital for M. tuberculosis in vitro and in vivo. PimA initiates the biosynthesis of phosphatidyl-myoinositol mannosides by transferring a mannosyl residue from GDP-Man to phosphatidyl-myo-inositol on the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane. To prove the essential nature of pimA in M. tuberculosis, we constructed a pimA conditional mutant by using the TetR-Pip off system and showed that downregulation of PimA expression causes bactericidality in batch cultures. Consistent with the biochemical reaction catalyzed by PimA, this phenotype was associated with markedly reduced levels of phosphatidyl-myo-inositol dimannosides, essential structural components of the mycobacterial cell envelope. In addition, the requirement of PimA for viability was clearly demonstrated during macrophage infection and in two different mouse models of infection, where a dramatic decrease in viable counts was observed upon silencing of the gene. Notably, depletion of PimA resulted in complete clearance of the mouse lungs during both the acute and chronic phases of infection. Altogether, the experimental data highlight the importance of the phosphatidyl-myo-inositol mannoside biosynthetic pathway for M. tuberculosis and confirm that PimA is a novel target for future drug discovery programs.
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