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Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 28;9(1):3074. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-38577-9.

Complement-dependent outer membrane perturbation sensitizes Gram-negative bacteria to Gram-positive specific antibiotics.

Author information

1
Medical Microbiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands.
2
Institute of Biology Leiden, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands.
3
Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands.
4
Medical Microbiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands. b.w.bardoel-2@umcutrecht.nl.

Abstract

Gram-negative bacteria are refractory to the action of many antibiotics due to their impermeable outer membrane. An important player of the immune system is the complement system, a protein network in serum that directly kills Gram-negative bacteria through pore-formation by the Membrane Attack Complexes (MAC). We here show that the MAC rapidly perforates the outer membrane but that inner membrane damage, which is essential for killing, is relatively slow. Importantly, we demonstrate that MAC-induced outer membrane damage sensitizes Gram-negative bacteria to otherwise ineffective, Gram-positive-specific, antimicrobials. Synergy between serum and nisin was observed for 22 out of 53 tested Gram-negative clinical isolates and for multi-drug resistant (MDR) blood isolates. The in vivo relevance of this process is further highlighted by the fact that blood sensitizes a MDR K. pneumoniae strain to vancomycin. Altogether, these data imply that antibiotics that are considered ineffective to treat infections with Gram-negatives may have different functional outcomes in patients, due to the presence of the complement system.

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