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Rapidly spreading antibiotic resistance and the low discovery rate of new antimicrobial compounds demand more effective strategies for early drug discovery. One bottleneck in the drug discovery pipeline is the identification of the modes of action (MoAs) of new compounds. We have developed a rapid systematic metabolome profiling strategy to classify the MoAs of bioactive compounds. The method predicted MoA-specific metabolic responses in the nonpathogenic bacteriumMycobacterium smegmatisafter treatment with 62 reference compounds with known MoAs and different metabolic and nonmetabolic targets. We then analyzed a library of 212 new antimycobacterial compounds with unknown MoAs from a drug discovery effort by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). More than 70% of these new compounds induced metabolic responses inM. smegmatisindicative of known MoAs, seven of which were experimentally validated. Only 8% (16) of the compounds appeared to target unconventional cellular processes, illustrating the difficulty in discovering new antibiotics with different MoAs among compounds used as monotherapies. For six of the GSK compounds with potentially new MoAs, the metabolome profiles suggested their ability to interfere with trehalose and lipid metabolism. This was supported by whole-genome sequencing of spontaneous drug-resistant mutants of the pathogenMycobacterium tuberculosisand in vitro compound-proteome interaction analysis for one of these compounds. Our compendium of drug-metabolome profiles can be used to rapidly query the MoAs of uncharacterized antimicrobial compounds and should be a useful resource for the drug discovery community.

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One of the tricky parts about trying to find new antibiotics is that many screening modes will just discover things that have been discovered before. You’d think that if you’re looking for “bug killers” that you could just run through...