Colistin remains a last-line treatment for MDR Acinetobacter baumannii and combined use of colistin and carbapenems has shown synergistic effects against MDR strains. In order to understand the bacterial responses to these antibiotics, we analysed the transcriptome of A. baumannii following exposure to each.
RNA sequencing was employed to determine changes in the transcriptome following treatment with colistin and doripenem, both alone and in combination, using an in vitro pharmacokinetics (PK)/pharmacodynamics model to mimic the PK of both antibiotics in patients.
After treatment with colistin (continuous infusion at 2 mg/L), >400 differentially regulated genes were identified, including many associated with outer membrane biogenesis, fatty acid metabolism and phospholipid trafficking. No genes were differentially expressed following treatment with doripenem (Cmax 25 mg/L, t1/2 1.5 h) for 15 min, but 45 genes were identified as differentially expressed after 1 h of growth under this condition. Treatment of A. baumannii with both colistin and doripenem together for 1 h resulted in >450 genes being identified as differentially expressed. More than 70% of these gene expression changes were also observed following colistin treatment alone.
These data suggest that colistin causes gross damage to the outer membrane, facilitates lipid exchange between the inner and outer membrane and alters the normal asymmetric outer membrane composition. The transcriptional response to colistin was highly similar to that observed for an LPS-deficient strain, indicating that many of the observed changes are responses to outer membrane instability resulting from LPS loss.