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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2010 Jan;85(4):1095-104. doi: 10.1007/s00253-009-2199-x. Epub 2009 Aug 26.

Monitoring of diguanylate cyclase activity and of cyclic-di-GMP biosynthesis by whole-cell assays suitable for high-throughput screening of biofilm inhibitors.

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Department of Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy.


In Gram-negative bacteria, production of bis-(3',5')-cyclic diguanylic acid (c-di-GMP) by diguanylate cyclases (DGCs) is the main trigger for production of extracellular polysaccharides and for biofilm formation. Mutants affected in c-di-GMP biosynthesis are impaired in biofilm formation, thus making DGCs interesting targets for new antimicrobial agents with anti-biofilm activity. In this report, we describe a strategy for the screening for DGC inhibitors consisting of a combination of three microbiological assays. The primary assay utilizes an Escherichia coli strain overexpressing the adrA gene, encoding the DGC protein AdrA, and relies on detection of AdrA-dependent cellulose production as red colony phenotype on solid medium supplemented with the dye Congo red (CR). Presence of DGC inhibitors blocking AdrA activity would result in a white phenotype on CR medium. The CR assay can be performed in 96-well microtiter plates, making it suitable for high-throughput screenings. To confirm specific inhibition of c-di-GMP biosynthesis, chemical compounds positive in the CR assay are tested for their ability to inhibit biofilm formation and in a reporter gene assay which monitors expression of curli-encoding genes as a function of DGC activity. Screening of a chemical library using the described approach allowed us to identify sulfathiazole, an antimetabolite drug, as an inhibitor of c-di-GMP biosynthesis. Sulfathiazole probably affects c-di-GMP biosynthesis in an indirect fashion rather than by binding to DGCs; however, sulfathiazole represents the first example of drug able to affect biofilm formation by interfering with c-di-GMP metabolism.

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