How Do Glycopeptides Work?

Reviewed on 10/22/2021

What Are Glycopeptides and How Do They Work?

Glycopeptides are a type of antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections, especially those caused by gram-positive organisms and enterococcal infections, which are resistant to other antibiotics. Glycopeptide antibiotics work by inhibiting the cell wall synthesis of the bacteria. By attaching to its target (D-alanyl-D-alanine terminus) which is part of the cell wall, the invading bacteria are unable to divide and multiply. Glycopeptides also possess a bactericidal capacity, which means they can block the multiplication of bacteria and can also act as poisons and kill them.

Infection-causing bacteria are mainly of two types: gram-positive bacteria which lack an outer membrane covering their cell walls and gram-negative bacteria which have an additional membrane that covers the cell walls. Although glycopeptides are effective on gram-positive bacterial infections, gram-negative bacteria are resistant to glycopeptides because of the presence of an outer membrane that restricts the entry of glycopeptides into their cell wall.

Glycopeptides are given as intravenous infusions in severe infections. Oral treatment is effective when the action is local such as in digestive tract infections.

How Are Glycopeptides Used?

Glycopeptides are used in cases of:

  • Infective endocarditis (bacterial infection of the heart lining, valve, or blood vessel)
  • Enterocolitis (inflammation of the digestive tract)
  • Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea (Clostridium is a type of bacteria that infects the bowel and causes diarrhea and pain in the abdomen)
  • Severe skin infections
  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia
  • Septicemia (bacterial infection present elsewhere in the body enters the bloodstream)
  • Lower respiratory tract infections
  • Bone infections
  • Infections that are resistant to other antibiotics

Glycopeptide antibiotics affect kidney function, especially in those aged 65 years or older. Close monitoring of renal function is required during and after treatment.

What Are Side Effects of Glycopeptides?

Common side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Flatulence
  • Vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Taste disturbance
  • Headache
  • Foamy urine
  • Edema
  • Diarrhea

Other rare side effects include:

  • Adverse kidney function (symptoms include weight loss, poor appetite, swollen ankles or feet, tiredness, blood in urine, increased frequency of urine especially at night, and itchy skin)
  • Electrocardiogram changes
  • Transient or permanent hearing loss
  • Red man syndrome (reaction caused by the rapid infusion of the glycopeptide antibiotic vancomycin)

The information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What Are Names of Glycopeptide Drugs?

Glycopeptide drug names include:

Medscape. Glycopeptides.

NCBI. Approved Glycopeptide Antibacterial Drugs: Mechanism of Action and Resistance Glycopeptides (Dalbavancin, Oritavancin, Teicoplanin, Telavancin, Vancomycin).

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