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Summary

Holliday junction intermediates arise in several central pathways of DNA repair, replication fork restart, and site-specific recombination catalysed by tyrosine recombinases. Previously identified hexapeptide inhibitors of phage lambda integrase-mediated recombination block the resolution of Holliday junction intermediates in vitro and thereby inhibit recombination, but have no DNA cleavage activity themselves. The most potent peptides are specific for the branched DNA structure itself, as opposed to the integrase complex. Based on this activity, the peptides inhibit several unrelated Holliday junction-processing enzymes in vitro, including the RecG helicase and RuvABC junction resolvase complex. We have found that some of these hexapeptides are potent bactericidal antimicrobials, effective against both Gm+ and Gm– bacteria. Using epifluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry, we have characterized extensively the physiology of bacterial cells treated with these peptides. The hexapeptides cause DNA segregation abnormalities, filamentation and DNA damage. Damage caused by the peptides induces the SOS response, and is synergistic with damage caused by UV and mitomycin C. Our results are consistent with the model that the hexapeptides affect DNA targets that arise during recombination-dependent repair. We propose that the peptides trap intermediates in the repair of collapsed replication forks, preventing repair and resulting in bacterial death. Inhibition of DNA repair constitutes a novel target of antibiotic therapy. The peptides affect targets that arise in multiple pathways, and as expected, are quite resistant to the development of spontaneous antibiotic resistance.