Bacterial Resistance to Antimicrobial Peptides : Rates, Mechanisms and Fitness Effects

Abstract: The rapid emergence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics has necessitated the development of alternative treatment strategies. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are important immune system components that kill microbes rapidly and have broad activity-spectra, making them promising leads for new pharmaceuticals. Although the need for novel antimicrobials is great, we also need a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying resistance development to enable design of more efficient drugs and reduce the rate of resistance development. The focus of this thesis has been to examine development of bacterial resistance to AMPs and the resulting effects on bacterial physiology. The major model organism used was Salmonella enterica variant Typhimurium LT2. In Paper I, we observed that bacteria resistant to PR-39 appeared at a high rate, and that the underlying sbmA resistance mutations were low cost or even cost-free. Such mutants are more likely to rapidly appear in a population and, most importantly, will not disappear easily once the selective pressure is removed. In paper II, we isolated protamine-resistant hem- and cydC-mutants that had reduced growth rates and were cross-resistant to several other antimicrobials. These mutants were small colony variants (SCVs), a phenotype often associated with persistent infections. One SCV with a hemC-mutation reverted to faster growth when evolved in the absence of protamine. In paper III, the mechanism behind this fitness compensation was determined, and was found to occur through hemC gene amplification and subsequent point mutations. The study provides a novel mechanism for reversion of the SCV-phenotype and further evidence that gene amplification is a common adaptive mechanism in bacteria. In Paper IV, the antibacterial properties of cyclotides, cyclic mini-proteins from plants, were evaluated. Cycloviolacin O2 from violets was found to be bactericidal against Gram-negative bacteria. Cyclotides are very stable molecules and may be potential starting points for development of peptide antibiotics.