Enterobacteriaceae have multiple efflux pumps that confer intrinsic resistance to antibiotics. AcrB mediates clinically relevant multidrug resistance and is required for virulence and biofilm formation, making it an attractive target for the design of inhibitors. The aim of this study was to assess the viability of single transporters as a target for efflux inhibition using Salmonella Typhimurium as the model pathogen.
The expression of resistance–nodulation–division (RND) efflux pump genes in response to the inactivation of single or multiple homologues was measured using real-time RT–PCR. Phenotypes of mutants were characterized by measuring antimicrobial susceptibility, dye accumulation and the ability to cause infection in vitro.
The expression of all RND efflux pump genes was increased when single or multiple acr genes were inactivated, suggesting a feedback mechanism that activates the transcription of homologous efflux pump genes. When two or three acr genes were inactivated, the mutants had further reduced efflux, altered susceptibility to antimicrobials (including increased susceptibility to some, but conversely and counterintuitively, decreased susceptibility to some others) and were more attenuated in the tissue culture model than mutants lacking single pumps were.
These data indicate that it is critical to understand which pumps an inhibitor is active against and the effect of this on the expression of homologous systems. For some antimicrobials, an inhibitor with activity against multiple pumps will have a greater impact on susceptibility, but an unintended consequence of this may be decreased susceptibility to other drugs, such as aminoglycosides.