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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1994 August; 38(8): 1742–1752.
PMCID: PMC284631

Role of efflux pump(s) in intrinsic resistance of Pseudomonas aeruginosa: active efflux as a contributing factor to beta-lactam resistance.


Wild-type strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa are more resistant to various beta-lactam antibiotics as well as other agents than most enteric bacteria. Although resistance to compounds of earlier generations is explained by the synergism between the outer membrane barrier and the inducible beta-lactamase, it was puzzling to see significant levels of resistance to compounds that do not act as inducers or are not hydrolyzed rapidly by the chromosomally encoded enzyme. This intrinsic-resistance phenotype becomes enhanced in those strains with the so-called intrinsic carbenicillin resistance. In the accompanying paper (X.-Z. Li, D. M. Livermore, and H. Nikaido, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 38:1732-1741, 1994), we showed that active efflux played a role in the resistance, to various non-beta-lactam agents, of P. aeruginosa strains in general and that the efflux was enhanced in intrinsically carbenicillin-resistant strains. We show in this paper that, in comparison with the drug-hypersusceptible mutant K799/61, less benzylpenicillin was accumulated in wild-type strains of P. aeruginosa and that the accumulation levels were even lower in intrinsically carbenicillin-resistant strains. Deenergization by the addition of a proton conductor increased the accumulation level to that expected for equilibration across the cytoplasmic membrane. In intrinsically carbenicillin-resistant isolates, there was no evidence that either nonspecific or specific permeation rates of beta-lactams across the outer membrane were lowered in comparison with those of the more susceptible isolates. Furthermore, these carbenicillin-resistant isolates were previously shown to have no alteration in the level or the inducibility of beta-lactamase and in the affinity of penicillin-binding proteins. These data together suggest the involvement of an active efflux mechanism also in the resistance to beta-lactams. Hydrophilic beta-lactams with more than one charged group did not cross the cytoplasmic membrane readily. Yet one such compound, ceftriaxone, appeared to be extruded from the cells of more-resistant strains, although with this compound effects of proton conductors could not be shown. We postulate that wild-type strains of P. aeruginosa pump out such hydrophilic beta-lactams either from the periplasm or from the outer leaflet of the lipid bilayer of the cytoplasmic membrane, in a manner analogous to that hypothesized for multidrug resistance protein of human cancer cells (M.M. Gottesman and I. Pastan, Annu. Rev. Biochem. 62:385-427, 1993).

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