Comparative analysis of phosphoethanolamine transferases involved in polymyxin resistance across 10 clinically relevant Gram-negative bacteria

Jiayuan Huang, Yan Zhu, Meiling Han, Mengyao Li, Jiangning Song, Tony Velkov, Chen Li, Jian Li

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17 Citations (Scopus)


The rapid emergence of Gram-negative 'superbugs’ has become a significant threat to human health globally, and polymyxins have become a last-line therapy for these very problematic pathogens. Polymyxins exhibit their antibacterial killing by initial interaction with lipid A in Gram-negative bacteria. Polymyxin resistance can be mediated by phosphoethanolamine (PEA) modification of lipid A, which abolishes the initial electrostatic interaction with polymyxins. Both chromosome-encoded (e.g. EptA, EptB and EptC) and plasmid-encoded (e.g. MCR-1 and MCR-2) PEA transferases have been reported in Gram-negative bacteria; however, their sequence and functional heterogeneity remain unclear. This article reports a comparative analysis of PEA transferases across 10 clinically relevant Gram-negative bacterial species using multiple sequence alignment and phylogenetic analysis. The results show that the pairwise identities among chromosome-mediated EptA, EptB and EptC from Escherichia coli are low, and EptA shows the greatest similarity with MCR-1 and MCR-2. Among PEA transferases from representative strains of 10 clinically relevant species, the catalytic domain is more conserved compared with the transmembrane domain. In particular, PEA acceptor sites and zinc-binding pockets show high conservation between different species, indicating their potential importance for the function of PEA transferases. The evolutionary relationship of MCR-1, MCR-2 and EptA from the 10 selected bacterial species was evaluated by phylogenetic analysis. Cluster analysis illustrates that 325 EptA from 275 strains of 10 species within each individual species are highly conserved, whereas interspecies conservation is low. This comparative analysis provides key bioinformatic information to better understand the mechanism of polymyxin resistance via PEA modification of lipid A.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)586-593
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Antimicrobial Agents
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Multi-drug resistance
  • Multiple sequence alignment
  • Phosphoethanolamine transferase
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Polymyxin resistance

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