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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2012 Nov;56(11):5642-9. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00756-12. Epub 2012 Aug 20.

Rapid killing of Acinetobacter baumannii by polymyxins is mediated by a hydroxyl radical death pathway.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Program, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Acinetobacter baumannii is an opportunistic pathogen that is a cause of clinically significant nosocomial infections. Increasingly, clinical isolates of A. baumannii are extensively resistant to numerous antibiotics, and the use of polymyxin antibiotics against these infections is often the final treatment option. Historically, the polymyxins have been thought to kill bacteria through membrane lysis. Here, we present an alternative mechanism based on data demonstrating that polymyxins induce rapid cell death through hydroxyl radical production. Supporting this notion, we found that inhibition of radical production delays the ability of polymyxins to kill A. baumannii. Notably, we demonstrate that this mechanism of killing occurs in multidrug-resistant clinical isolates of A. baumannii and that this response is not induced in a polymyxin-resistant isolate. This study is the first to demonstrate that polymyxins induce rapid killing of A. baumannii and other Gram-negatives through hydroxyl radical production. This significantly augments our understanding of the mechanism of polymyxin action, which is critical knowledge toward the development of adjunctive therapies, particularly given the increasing necessity for treatment with these antibiotics in the clinical setting.

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