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J Bacteriol. 1997 Oct;179(19):6127-32.

Silver-resistant mutants of Escherichia coli display active efflux of Ag+ and are deficient in porins.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.


Silver-resistant mutants were selected by stepwise exposure of silver-susceptible clinical strains of Escherichia coli, two of which did not contain any plasmids, to either silver nitrate or silver sulfadiazine. These mutants showed complete cross-resistance to both compounds. They showed low-level cross-resistance to cephalosporins and HgCl2 but not to other heavy metals. The Ag-resistant mutants had decreased outer membrane (OM) permeability to cephalosporins, and all five resistant mutants tested were deficient in major porins, either OmpF or OmpF plus OmpC. However, the well-studied OmpF- and/or OmpC-deficient mutants of laboratory strains K-12 and B/r were not resistant to either silver compound. Resistant strains accumulated up to fourfold less (110m)AgNO3 than the parental strains. The treatment of cells with carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone increased Ag accumulation in Ag-susceptible and -resistant strains, suggesting that even the wild-type Ag-susceptible strains had an endogenous Ag efflux activity, which occurred at higher levels in Ag-resistant mutants. The addition of glucose as an energy source to starved cells activated the efflux of Ag. The results suggest that active efflux, presumably coded by a chromosomal gene(s), may play a major role in silver resistance, which is likely to be enhanced synergistically by decreases in OM permeability.

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