Discovery of PqsE Thioesterase Inhibitors for Pseudomonas aeruginosa Using DNA-Encoded Small Molecule Library Screening

Julie S. Valastyan, Michael R. Tota, Isabelle R. Taylor, Vasiliki Stergioula, Graham A.B. Hone, Chari D. Smith, Brad R. Henke, Kenneth G. Carson, Bonnie L. Bassler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections in the United States. PqsE, a thioesterase enzyme, is vital for virulence of P. aeruginosa, making PqsE an attractive target for inhibition. Neither the substrate nor the product of PqsE catalysis has been identified. A library of 550 million DNA-encoded drug-like small molecules was screened for those that bind to the purified PqsE protein. The structures of the bound molecules were identified by high throughput sequencing of the attached DNA barcodes. Putative PqsE binders with the strongest affinity features were examined for inhibition of PqsE thioesterase activity in vitro. The most potent inhibitors were resynthesized off DNA and examined for the ability to alter PqsE thermal melting and for PqsE thioesterase inhibition. Here, we report the synthesis, biological activity, mechanism of action, and early structure-activity relationships of a series of 2-(phenylcarbamoyl)benzoic acids that noncompetitively inhibit PqsE. A small set of analogs designed to probe initial structure-activity relationships showed increases in potency relative to the original hits, the best of which has an IC50 = 5 μM. Compound refinement is required to assess their in vivo activities as the current compounds do not accumulate in the P. aeruginosa cytosol. Our strategy validates DNA-encoded compound library screening as a rapid and effective method to identify catalytic inhibitors of the PqsE protein, and more generally, for discovering binders to bacterial proteins revealed by genetic screening to have crucial in vivo activities but whose biological functions have not been well-defined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-456
Number of pages11
JournalACS chemical biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 21 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry


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