Natamycin is a polyene macrolide, widely employed to treat fungal keratitis and other yeast infections as well as to protect food products against fungal molds. In contrast to other polyene macrolides, such as nystatin or amphotericin B, natamycin does not form pores in yeast membranes, and its mode of action is not well understood. Here, we have employed a variety of spectroscopic methods, computational modeling, and membrane reconstitution to study the molecular interactions of natamycin underlying its antifungal activity. We find that natamycin forms aggregates in an aqueous solution with strongly altered optical properties compared to monomeric natamycin. Interaction of natamycin with model membranes results in a concentration-dependent fluorescence increase which is more pronounced for ergosterol- compared to cholesterol-containing membranes up to 20 mol% sterol. Evidence for formation of specific ergosterol-natamycin complexes in the bilayer is provided. Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy, we find that natamycin sequesters sterols, thereby interfering with their well-known ability to order acyl chains in lipid bilayers. This effect is more pronounced for membranes containing the sterol of fungi, ergosterol, compared to those containing mammalian cholesterol. Natamycin interferes with ergosterol-dependent transport of lysine by the yeast transporter Lyp1, which we propose to be due to the sequestering of ergosterol, a mechanism that also affects other plasma membrane proteins. Our results provide a mechanistic explanation for the selective antifungal activity of natamycin, which can set the stage for rational design of novel polyenes in the future.
- Polyene macrolide