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PLoS One. 2014 Nov 12;9(11):e112093. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112093. eCollection 2014.

Alkaloids modulate motility, biofilm formation and antibiotic susceptibility of uropathogenic Escherichia coli.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Alkaloid-containing natural compounds have shown promise in the treatment of microbial infections. However, practical application of many of these compounds is pending a mechanistic understanding of their mode of action. We investigated the effect of two alkaloids, piperine (found in black pepper) and reserpine (found in Indian snakeroot), on the ability of the uropathogenic bacterium Escherichia coli CFT073 to colonize abiotic surfaces. Sub-inhibitory concentrations of both compounds (0.5 to 10 µg/mL) decreased bacterial swarming and swimming motilities and increased biofilm formation. qRT-PCR revealed a decrease in the expression of the flagellar gene (fliC) and motility genes (motA and motB) along with an increased expression of adhesin genes (fimA, papA, uvrY). Interestingly, piperine increased penetration of the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and azithromycin into E. coli CFT073 biofilms and consequently enhanced the ability of these antibiotics to disperse pre-established biofilms. The findings suggest that these alkaloids can potentially affect bacterial colonization by hampering bacterial motility and may aid in the treatment of infection by increasing antibiotic penetration in biofilms.

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