Gallium-mediated siderophore quenching as an evolutionarily robust antibacterial treatment

Adin Ross-Gillespie*, Michael Weigert, Sam P. Brown, Rolf Kümmerli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background and objectives: Conventional antibiotics select strongly for resistance and are consequently losing efficacy worldwide. Extracellular quenching of shared virulence factors could represent a more promising strategy because (i) it reduces the available routes to resistance (as extracellular action precludes any mutations blocking a drug's entry into cells or hastening its exit) and (ii) it weakens selection for resistance, as fitness benefits to emergent mutants are diluted across all cells in a cooperative collective. Here, we tested this hypothesis empirically. Methodology: We used gallium to quench the iron-scavenging siderophores secreted and shared among pathogenic Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, and quantitatively monitored its effects on growth in vitro. We assayed virulence in acute infections of caterpillar hosts (Galleria mellonella), and tracked resistance emergence over time using experimental evolution. Results: Gallium strongly inhibited bacterial growth in vitro, primarily via its siderophore quenching activity. Moreover, bacterial siderophore production peaked at intermediate gallium concentrations, indicating additional metabolic costs in this range. In vivo, gallium attenuated virulence and growth-even more so than in infections with siderophore-deficient strains. Crucially, while resistance soon evolved against conventional antibiotic treatments, gallium treatments retained their efficacy over time. Conclusions: Extracellular quenching of bacterial public goods could offer an effective and evolutionarily robust control strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereou003
Pages (from-to)18-29
Number of pages12
JournalEvolution, Medicine, and Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2014

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • antivirulence therapy
  • experimental evolution
  • Pseudomonas
  • public good quenching
  • resistance


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