Although flow cytometry has been used to study antibiotic effects on bacterial membrane potential (MP) and membrane permeability, flow cytometric results are not always well correlated to changes in bacterial counts. Using new, precise techniques, we simultaneously measured MP, membrane permeability, and particle counts of antibiotic-treated and untreated
Staphylococcus aureusand Micrococcus luteuscells. MP was calculated from the ratio of red and green fluorescence of diethyloxacarbocyanine [DiOC 2 (3)]. A normalized permeability parameter was calculated from the ratio of far red fluorescence of the nucleic acid dye TO-PRO-3 and green DiOC 2 (3) fluorescence. Bacterial counts were calculated by the addition of polystyrene beads to the sample at a known concentration. Amoxicillin increased permeability within 45 min. At concentrations of <1 μg/ml, some organisms showed increased permeability but normal MP; this population disappeared after 4 h, while bacterial counts increased. At amoxicillin concentrations above 1 μg/ml, MP decreased irreversibly and the particle counts did not increase. Tetracycline and erythromycin caused smaller, dose- and time-dependent decreases in MP. Tetracycline concentrations of <1 μg/ml did not change permeability, while a tetracycline concentration of 4 μg/ml permeabilized 50% of the bacteria; 4 μg of erythromycin per ml permeabilized 20% of the bacteria. Streptomycin decreased MP substantially, with no effect on permeability; chloramphenicol did not change either permeability or MP. Erythromycin pretreatment of bacteria prevented streptomycin and amoxicillin effects. Flow cytometry provides a sensitive means of monitoring the dynamic cellular events that occur in bacteria exposed to antibacterial agents; however, it is probably simplistic to expect that changes in a single cellular parameter will suffice to determine the sensitivities of all species to all drugs.