Effective Strategy Targeting Polymyxin-Resistant Gram-Negative Pathogens: Polymyxin B in Combination with the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Sertraline

Maytham Hussein, Elena K. Schneider-Futschik, Olivia K.A. Paulin, Rafah Allobawi, Simon Crawford, Qi Tony Zhou, Adil Hanif, Mark Baker, Yan Zhu, Jian Li, Tony Velkov

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18 Citations (Scopus)


This study aimed to investigate synergistic antibacterial activity of polymyxin B in combination with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, sertraline, against the Gram-negative pathogens Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The combination of polymyxin B and sertraline showed synergistic antibacterial activity in checkerboard and static time-kill assays at clinically relevant concentrations against both polymyxin-susceptible and polymyxin-resistant isolates. The potential antimicrobial mode of action of the combination was investigated against P. aeruginosa FADDI-PA024 using untargeted metabolomics alongside scanning and transmission electron microscopy (EM). Scanning and transmission EM revealed that the polymyxin B and sertraline combination resulted in greater damage to the bacterial cell compared to each drug alone. Metabolomics results showed that the combination significantly affected the bacterial ability to remodel its outer membrane. This was reflected by the major perturbation of glycerophospholipids and fatty acids and the pantothenate and coenzyme A (CoA) pathways, which feed fatty acid elongation (e.g., trans-hexadec-2-enoyl-CoA) as well as inhibit the biosynthesis of lipopolysaccharide and peptidoglycan. The combination also inhibited the polymyxin resistance phosphoethanolamine (pEtN) lipid A modification pathway, indicated by the declined levels of phosphoethanolamine. In summary, the present study highlights the potential possibilities of a polymyxin-sertraline combination for the treatment of infections caused by multidrug resistant Gram-negative bacteria such as central nervous system (CNS) infections via direct intraventricular/intrathecal delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1436-1450
Number of pages15
JournalACS Infectious Diseases
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2020


  • antimicrobial peptides
  • antimicrobial resistance
  • Gram-negative
  • MDR
  • metabolomics
  • sertraline

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