Electrostatic forces mediate the initial interaction between cationic colistin and Gram-negative bacterial cells. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) loss mediates colistin resistance in some A. baumannii strains. Our aim was to determine the surface charge of colistin-susceptible and –resistant A. baumannii as a function of growth phase and in response to polymyxin treatment.
The zeta potential of A. baumannii ATCC 19606 and 10 clinical multidrug-resistant strains (MICs 0.5–2 mg/L) was assessed. Colistin-resistant derivatives (MIC >128 mg/L) of wild-type strains were selected in the presence of 10 mg/L colistin, including the LPS-deficient lpxA mutant, ATCC 19606R. To determine the contribution of LPS to surface charge, two complemented ATCC 19606R derivatives were examined, namely ATCC 19606R + lpxA (containing an intact lpxA gene) and ATCC 19606R + V (containing empty vector). Investigations were conducted as a function of growth phase and polymyxin treatment (1, 4 and 8 mg/L).
Wild-type cells exhibited a greater negative charge (−60.5 ± 2.36 to −26.2 ± 2.56 mV) thancolistin-resistant cells (−49.2 ± 3.09 to −19.1 ± 2.80 mV) at mid-log phase (ANOVA, P < 0.05). Opposing growth-phase trends were observed for both phenotypes: wild-type cells displayed reduced negative charge and colistin-resistant cells displayed increased negative charge at stationary compared with mid-logarithmic phase. Polymyxin exposure resulted in a concentration-dependent increase in zeta potential. Examination of ATCC 19606R and complemented strains supported the importance of LPS in determining surface charge, suggesting a potential mechanism of colistin resistance.
Zeta potential differences between A. baumannii phenotypes probably reflect compositional outer-membrane variations that impact the electrostatic component of colistin activity.