The licorice metabolite enoxolone attenuates Clostridioides difficile pathophysiology by corrupting its metabolic and toxin production networks Institutional Repository Document uri icon


  • ABSTRACTToxins TcdA and TcdB are the main virulence factors of Clostridioides difficile, a leading cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea. We investigated the therapeutic potential of inhibiting the biosynthesis of TcdA and TcdB. Accordingly, screening of structurally diverse phytochemicals with medicinal properties identified 18-glycyrrhetinic acid (enoxolone) as an inhibitor of TcdA and TcdB biosynthesis. Enoxolone also inhibited sporulation. In a CDI colitis model, enoxolone when combined with vancomycin protected mice from becoming moribund and the combination was more effective than vancomycin alone, a standard of care antibiotic for CDI. While enoxolone alone reduced the in vivo load of toxins, the monotherapy did not protect mice from CDI. Affinity based proteomics identified ATP synthase subunit alpha (AtpA) and adenine deaminase (Ade) as possible molecular targets for enoxolone. Silencing of mRNA for Ade and AtpA also reduced toxin biosynthesis, while molecular interaction analysis showed that enoxolone directly bound to Ade. Ade converts adenine to hypoxanthine as an early step in the purine salvage pathway. Metabolomics revealed enoxolone caused cells to accumulate adenosine and deplete hypoxanthine and ATP. Accordingly, supplementation with hypoxanthine partly restored toxin production. Enoxolone also impacted phosphate metabolism by reducing the amounts of cellular phosphate. Thus, supplementation with triethyl phosphate as a source of phosphate also partly restored toxin production. When hypoxanthine and triethyl phosphate were combined, toxin production was fully restored in the presence of enoxolone. Taken together, studies with enoxolone revealed metabolic pathways that affect C. difficile toxin production and could represent potential anti-virulence drug targets.IMPORTANCEClostridioides difficile, a leading cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea, produces two co-regulated toxins (TcdA and TcdB) that are the focus of most anti-virulence discovery efforts for C. difficile infection (CDI). Exploration of an alternate anti-virulence strategy led to the discovery that the licorice metabolite enoxolone inhibits C. difficile virulence by blocking the cellular biosynthesis of TcdA and TcdB. Blockage of toxin production by enoxolone was associated with multiple effects on cells, including inhibiting adenine deaminase and ATP synthase leading to disruption of purine biosynthesis and phosphate metabolism. In mice infected with C. difficile, the efficacy of enoxolone in combination with vancomycin was superior to vancomycin alone. These findings contribute to establishing toxin biosynthesis inhibition as a newer therapeutic concept for CDI.

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Marreddy, R., Picker, J., Phelps, G. A., Powell, R., Cherian, P. T., Bowling, J. J., ... Hurdle, J. G.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Marreddy, Ravi KR||Picker, Jonathan||Phelps, Gregory A||Powell, Reid||Cherian, Philip T||Bowling, John J||Stephan, Clifford C||Lee, Richard E||Hurdle, Julian G

Book Title

  • bioRxiv

publication date

  • April 2022