β-lactam antibiotics are a class of antibiotics that contain a β-lactam ring in their chemical structure. This ring is essential for their antimicrobial activity. The β-lactam antibiotics include penicillins, cephalosporins, carbapenems, and monobactams.
These antibiotics work by inhibiting the synthesis of the bacterial cell wall, which is essential for the bacteria to survive. The β-lactam ring of the antibiotic binds to specific enzymes (transpeptidases and carboxypeptidases) that are involved in the cross-linking of the peptidoglycan layers of the cell wall. By inhibiting these enzymes, the β-lactam antibiotics prevent the formation of a functional cell wall, leading to bacterial lysis and death.
β-lactam antibiotics are widely used in the treatment of bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin and soft tissue infections, and meningitis. However, the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has led to the development of β-lactamase inhibitors, which can be used in combination with β-lactam antibiotics to enhance their efficacy against these resistant strains.