A Forward Chemical Screen Identifies Antibiotic Adjuvants in Escherichia coli
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Multi-drug-resistant infections caused by Gram-negative pathogens are rapidly increasing, highlighting the need for new chemotherapies. Unlike Gram-positive bacteria, where many different chemical classes of antibiotics show efficacy, Gram-negatives are intrinsically insensitive to many antimicrobials including the macrolides, rifamycins, and aminocoumarins, despite intracellular targets that are susceptible to these drugs. The basis for this insensitivity is the presence of the impermeant outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria in addition to the expression of pumps and porins that reduce intracellular concentrations of many molecules. Compounds that sensitize Gram-negative cells to "Gram-positive antibiotics", antibiotic adjuvants, offer an orthogonal approach to addressing the crisis of multi-drug-resistant Gram-negative pathogens. We performed a forward chemical genetic screen of 30,000 small molecules designed to identify such antibiotic adjuvants of the aminocoumarin antibiotic novobiocin in Escherichia coli. Four compounds from this screen were shown to be synergistic with novobiocin including inhibitors of the bacterial cytoskeleton protein MreB, cell wall biosynthesis enzymes, and DNA synthesis. All of these molecules were associated with altered cell shape and small molecule permeability, suggesting a unifying mechanism for these antibiotic adjuvants. The potential exists to expand this approach as a means to develop novel combination therapies for the treatment of infections caused by Gram-negative pathogens.
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