Temperate phage-antibiotic synergy across antibiotic classes reveals new mechanism for preventing lysogeny Journal Articles uri icon

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  • ABSTRACT A recent demonstration of synergy between a temperate phage and the antibiotic ciprofloxacin suggested a scalable approach to exploiting temperate phages in therapy, termed temperate phage-antibiotic synergy, which specifically interacted with the lysis-lysogeny decision. To determine whether this would hold true across antibiotics, we challenged Escherichia coli with the phage HK97 and a set of 13 antibiotics spanning seven classes. As expected, given the conserved induction pathway, we observed synergy with classes of drugs known to induce an SOS response: a sulfa drug, other quinolones, and mitomycin C. While some β-lactams exhibited synergy, this appeared to be traditional phage-antibiotic synergy, with no effect on the lysis-lysogeny decision. Curiously, we observed a potent synergy with antibiotics not known to induce the SOS response: protein synthesis inhibitors gentamicin, kanamycin, tetracycline, and azithromycin. The synergy results in an eightfold reduction in the effective minimum inhibitory concentration of gentamicin, complete eradication of the bacteria, and, when administered at sub-optimal doses, drastically decreases the frequency of lysogens emerging from the combined challenge. However, lysogens exhibit no increased sensitivity to the antibiotic; synergy was maintained in the absence of RecA; and the antibiotic reduced the initial frequency of lysogeny rather than selecting against formed lysogens. Our results confirm that SOS-inducing antibiotics broadly result in temperate-phage-specific synergy, but that other antibiotics can interact with temperate phages specifically and result in synergy. This is the first report of a means of chemically blocking entry into lysogeny, providing a new means for manipulating the key lysis-lysogeny decision. IMPORTANCE The lysis-lysogeny decision is made by most bacterial viruses (bacteriophages, phages), determining whether to kill their host or go dormant within it. With over half of the bacteria containing phages waiting to wake, this is one of the most important behaviors in all of biology. These phages are also considered unusable for therapy because of this behavior. In this paper, we show that many antibiotics bias this behavior to “wake” the dormant phages, forcing them to kill their host, but some also prevent dormancy in the first place. These will be important tools to study this critical decision point and may enable the therapeutic use of these phages.


  • Al-Anany, Amany M
  • Fatima, Rabia
  • Nair, Gayatri
  • Mayol, Jordan T
  • Hynes, Alexander

publication date

  • June 12, 2024

published in