Comparative metabolomics reveals key pathways associated with the synergistic activity of polymyxin B and rifampicin combination against multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii

Jinxin Zhao, Mei-Ling Han, Yan Zhu, Yu-Wei Lin, Yi-Wen Wang, Jing Lu, Yang Hu, Qi Tony Zhou, Tony Velkov, Jian Li

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Multidrug-resistant (MDR) Acinetobacter baumannii presents a critical challenge to human health worldwide and polymyxins are increasingly used as a last-line therapy. Due to the rapid emergence of resistance during polymyxin monotherapy, synergistic combinations (e.g. with rifampicin) are recommended to treat A. baumannii infections. However, most combination therapies are empirical, owing to a dearth of understanding on the mechanism of synergistic antibacterial killing. In the present study, we employed metabolomics to investigate the synergy mechanism of polymyxin B-rifampicin against A. baumannii AB5075, an MDR clinical isolate. The metabolomes of A. baumannii AB5075 were compared at 1 and 4 h following treatments with polymyxin B alone (0.75 mg/L, i.e. 3 × MIC), rifampicin alone (1 mg/L, i.e. 0.25 × MIC) and their combination. Polymyxin B monotherapy significantly perturbed glycerophospholipid and fatty acid metabolism at 1 h, reflecting its activity on bacterial outer membrane. Rifampicin monotherapy significantly perturbed glycerophospholipid, nucleotide and amino acid metabolism, which are related to the inhibition of RNA synthesis. The combination treatment significantly perturbed the metabolism of nucleotides, amino acids, fatty acids and glycerophospholipids at 1 and 4 h. Notably, the intermediate metabolite pools from pentose phosphate pathway were exclusively enhanced by the combination, while most metabolites from the nucleotide and amino acid biosynthesis pathways were significantly decreased. Overall, the synergistic activity of the combination was initially driven by polymyxin B which impacted pathways associated with outer membrane biogenesis; and subsequent effects were mainly attributed to rifampicin via the inhibition of RNA synthesis. This study is the first to reveal the synergistic killing mechanism of polymyxin-rifampicin combination against polymyxin-susceptible MDR A. baumannii at the network level. Our findings provide new mechanistic insights for optimizing this synergistic combination in patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114400
Number of pages11
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Acinetobacter baumannii
  • Metabolomics
  • polymyxin
  • Rifampicin
  • Synergy

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