Members of the macrolide class of antibiotics inhibit peptide elongation on the ribosome by binding close to the peptidyltransferase center and blocking the peptide exit tunnel in the large ribosomal subunit. We have studied the modes of action of the macrolides josamycin, with a 16-membered lactone ring, and erythromycin, with a 14-membered lactone ring, in a cell-free mRNA translation system with pure components from Escherichia coli. We have found that the average lifetime on the ribosome is 3 h for josamycin and less than 2 min for erythromycin and that the dissociation constants for josamycin and erythromycin binding to the ribosome are 5.5 and 11 nM, respectively. Josamycin slows down formation of the first peptide bond of a nascent peptide in an amino acid-dependent way and completely inhibits formation of the second or third peptide bond, depending on peptide sequence. Erythromycin allows formation of longer peptide chains before the onset of inhibition. Both drugs stimulate the rate constants for drop-off of peptidyl-tRNA from the ribosome. In the josamycin case, drop-off is much faster than drug dissociation, whereas these rate constants are comparable in the erythromycin case. Therefore, at a saturating drug concentration, synthesis of full-length proteins is completely shut down by josamycin but not by erythromycin. It is likely that the bacterio-toxic effects of the drugs are caused by a combination of inhibition of protein elongation, on the one hand, and depletion of the intracellular pools of aminoacyl-tRNAs available for protein synthesis by drop-off and incomplete peptidyl-tRNA hydrolase activity, on the other hand.
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