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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2019 Apr 25;63(5). pii: e02312-18. doi: 10.1128/AAC.02312-18. Print 2019 May.

The Widely Used Antimicrobial Triclosan Induces High Levels of Antibiotic Tolerance In Vitro and Reduces Antibiotic Efficacy up to 100-Fold In Vivo.

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Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Department of Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.
Division of Infectious Diseases, John T. Milliken Department of Internal Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Contributed equally


The antimicrobial triclosan is used in a wide range of consumer products ranging from toothpaste, cleansers, socks, and baby toys. A bacteriostatic inhibitor of fatty acid synthesis, triclosan is extremely stable and accumulates in the environment. Approximately 75% of adults in the United States have detectable levels of the compound in their urine, with a sizeable fraction of individuals (>10%) having urine concentrations equal to or greater than the minimal inhibitory concentration for Escherichia coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Previous work has identified connections between defects in fatty acid synthesis and accumulation of the alarmone guanosine tetraphosphate (ppGpp), which has been repeatedly associated with antibiotic tolerance and persistence. Based on these data, we hypothesized that triclosan exposure may inadvertently drive bacteria into a state in which they are able to tolerate normally lethal concentrations of antibiotics. Here we report that clinically relevant concentrations of triclosan increased E. coli and MRSA tolerance to bactericidal antibiotics as much as 10,000-fold in vitro and reduced antibiotic efficacy up to 100-fold in a mouse urinary tract infection model. Genetic analysis indicated that triclosan-mediated antibiotic tolerance requires ppGpp synthesis but is independent of growth. These data highlight an unexpected and certainly unintended consequence of adding high concentrations of antimicrobials in consumer products, supporting an urgent need to reevaluate the costs and benefits of the prophylactic use of triclosan and other bacteriostatic compounds.


antimicrobial agents; antimicrobial safety; genetics; urinary tract infection

[Available on 2019-10-25]
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