ACS chemical biology

Competition studies confirm two major barriers that can preclude the spread of resistance to quorum-sensing inhibitors in bacteria.

PMID 25105594


The growing threat of antibiotic resistance necessitates the development of novel antimicrobial therapies. Antivirulence agents that target group-beneficial traits in microorganisms (i.e., phenotypes that help the cells surrounding the producer cell instead of selfishly benefiting only the producer cell) represent a new antimicrobial approach that may be robust against the spread of resistant mutants. One prominent group-beneficial antivirulence target in bacteria is quorum sensing (QS). While scientists are producing new QS inhibitors (QSIs) at an increasing pace for use as research tools and potential therapeutic leads, substantial work remains in empirically demonstrating a robustness against resistance. Herein we report the results of in vitro competition studies in Pseudomonas aeruginosa that explicitly confirm that two separate barriers can impede the spread of resistance to QSIs: (1) insufficient native QS signal levels prevent rare QSI-resistant bacteria from expressing their QS regulon, and (2) group-beneficial QS-regulated phenotypes produced by resistant bacteria are susceptible to cheating by QSI-sensitive neighbors, even when grown on a solid substrate with limited mixing to mimic infected tissue. These results underscore the promise of QSIs and other antivirulence molecules that target group beneficial traits as resistance-robust antimicrobial treatments and provide support for their further development.