Chemical Screen for Vancomycin Antagonism Uncovers Probes of the Gram-Negative Outer Membrane
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The outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria is a formidable permeability barrier which allows only a small subset of chemical matter to penetrate. This outer membrane barrier can hinder the study of cellular processes and compound mechanism of action, as many compounds including antibiotics are precluded from entry despite having intracellular targets. Consequently, outer membrane permeabilizing compounds are invaluable tools in such studies. Many existing compounds known to perturb the outer membrane also impact inner membrane integrity, such as polymyxins and their derivatives, making these probes nonspecific. We performed a screen of ∼140 000 diverse synthetic compounds, for those that antagonized the growth inhibitory activity of vancomycin at 15 °C in Escherichia coli, to enrich for chemicals capable of perturbing the outer membrane. This led to the discovery that liproxstatin-1, an inhibitor of ferroptosis in human cells, and MAC-0568743, a novel cationic amphiphile, could potentiate the activity of large-scaffold antibiotics with low permeation into Gram-negative bacteria at 37 °C. Liproxstatin-1 and MAC-0568743 were found to physically disrupt the integrity of the outer membrane through interactions with lipopolysaccharide in the outer leaflet of the outer membrane. We showed that these compounds selectively disrupt the outer membrane while minimally impacting inner membrane integrity, particularly at the concentrations needed to potentiate Gram-positive-targeting antibiotics. Further exploration of these molecules and their structural analogues is a promising avenue for the development of outer membrane specific probes.
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