Bacteriophages targeting Acinetobacter baumannii capsule induce antimicrobial resensitization

Fernando Gordillo Altamirano, John H. Forsyth, Ruzeen Patwa, Xenia Kostoulias, Michael Trim, Dinesh Subedi, Stuart Archer, Faye C. Morris, Cody Oliveira, Luisa Kielty, Denis Korneev, Moira K. O’Bryan, Trevor J. Lithgow, Anton Y. Peleg, Jeremy J. Barr

Research output: Other contributionResearch


Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii is responsible for frequent, hard-to-treat and often fatal healthcare-associated infections. Phage therapy, the use of viruses that infect and kill bacteria, is an approach gaining significant clinical interest to combat antibiotic-resistant infections. However, a major limitation is that bacteria can develop resistance against phages. Here, we isolated phages with activity against a panel of A. baumannii strains and focused on clinical isolates AB900 and A9844 and their phages for detailed characterization. As expected, coincubation of the phages with their hosts in vitro resulted in the emergence of phage-resistant bacterial mutants. Genome sequence analysis revealed that phage-resistant mutants harbored loss-of-function mutations in genes from the K locus, responsible for the biosynthesis of the bacterial capsule. Using molecular biology techniques, phage adsorption assays, and quantitative evaluation of capsule production, we established that the bacterial capsule serves as the primary receptor for these phages. As a collateral phenotype of impaired capsule production, the phage-resistant strains could not form biofilms, became fully sensitized to the human complement system, showed increased susceptibility to beta-lactam antibiotics, and became vulnerable to additional phages. Finally, in a murine model of bacteremia, the phage-resistant A. baumannii demonstrated a diminished capacity to colonize blood and solid tissues. This study demonstrates that phages can be used not only for their lytic activity but, if combined with a posteriori knowledge of their receptors and the mechanism of bacterial resistance, for their potential synergy with other antimicrobial agents, thus providing even broader clinical options for phage therapy.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputonline
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2020

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