Identification of novel genetic mechanisms required for bacterial resistance to antimicrobial peptides
The study of bacterial resistance to antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) is a significant area of interest as these peptides have the potential to be developed into alternative drug therapies to combat microbial pathogens. AMPs represent a class of host-mediated factors that function to prevent microbial infection of their host and serve as a first line of defense. To date, over 1,000 AMPs of various natures have been predicted or experimentally characterized. Their potent bactericidal activities and broad-based target repertoire make them a promising next-generation pharmaceutical therapy to combat bacterial pathogens. It is important to understand the molecular mechanisms, both genetic and physiological, that bacteria employ to circumvent the bactericidal activities of AMPs. These understandings will allow researchers to overcome challenges posed with the development of new drug therapies; as well as identify, at a fundamental level, how bacteria are able to adapt and survive within varied host environments. Here, results are presented from the first reported large scale, systematic screen in which the Keio collection of ~4,000 Escherichia coli deletion mutants were challenged against physiologically significant AMPs to identify genes required for resistance. Less than 3% of the total number of genes on the E. coli chromosome was determined to contribute to bacterial resistance to at least one AMP analyzed in the screen. Further, the screen implicated a single cellular component (enterobacterial common antigen, ECA) and a single transporter system (twin-arginine transporter, Tat) as being required for resistance to each AMP class. Using antimicrobial resistance as a tool to identify novel genetic mechanisms, subsequent analyses were able to identify a two-component system, CpxR/CpxA, as a global regulator in bacterial resistance to AMPs. Multiple previously characterized CpxR/A members, as well as members found in this study, were identified in the screen. Notably, CpxR/A was found to transcriptionally regulate the gene cluster responsible for the biosynthesis of the ECA. Thus, a novel genetic mechanism was uncovered that directly correlates with a physiologically significant cellular component that appears to globally contribute to bacterial resistance to AMPs.