Lipid A Modification and Metabolic Adaptation in Polymyxin-Resistant, New Delhi Metallo-β-Lactamase-Producing Klebsiella pneumoniae

Jing Lu, Meiling Han, Heidi H. Yu, Phillip J. Bergen, Yiyun Liu, Jinxin Zhao, Hasini Wickremasinghe, Xukai Jiang, Yang Hu, Haiyan Du, Yan Zhu, Tony Velkov

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Polymyxins are last-line antibiotics employed against multidrug-resistant (MDR) Klebsiella pneumoniae. Worryingly, polymyxin resistance is rapidly on the rise globally. Polymyxins initially target lipid A of lipopolysaccharides (LPSs) in the cell outer membrane (OM), causing disorganization and cell lysis. While most studies focus on how genetic variations confer polymyxin resistance, the mechanisms of membrane remodeling and metabolic changes in polymyxin-resistant strains remain unclear, thus hampering the development of effective therapies to treat severe K. pneumoniae infections. In the present study, lipid A profiling, OM lipidomics, genomics, and metabolomics were integrated to elucidate the global mechanisms of polymyxin resistance and metabolic adaptation in a polymyxin-resistant strain (strain S01R; MIC of >128 mg/L) obtained from K. pneumoniae strain S01, a polymyxin-susceptible (MIC of 2 mg/L), New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase (NDM)-producing MDR clinical isolate. Genomic analysis revealed a novel in-frame deletion at position V258 of PhoQ in S01R, potentially leading to lipid A modification with 4-amino-4-deoxy-l-arabinose (L-Ara4N) despite the absence of polymyxin B. Comparative metabolomic analysis revealed slightly elevated levels of energy production and amino acid metabolism in S01R compared to their levels in S01. Exposure to polymyxin B (4 mg/L for S01 and 512 mg/L for S01R) substantially altered energy, nucleotide, and amino acid metabolism and resulted in greater accumulation of lipids in both strains. Furthermore, the change induced by polymyxin B treatment was dramatic at both 1 and 4 h in S01 but only significant at 4 h in S01R. Overall, profound metabolic adaptation was observed in S01R following polymyxin B treatment. These findings contribute to our understanding of polymyxin resistance mechanisms in problematic NDM-producing K. pneumoniae strains and may facilitate the discovery of novel therapeutic targets. IMPORTANCE Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major threat to global health. The emergence of resistance to the polymyxins that are the last line of defense in so-called Gram-negative "superbugs" has further increased the urgency to develop novel therapies. There are frequent outbreaks of K. pneumoniae infections in hospitals being reported, and polymyxin usage is increasing remarkably. Importantly, the polymyxin-resistant K. pneumoniae strains are imposing more severe consequences to health systems. Using metabolomics, lipid A profiling, and outer membrane lipidomics, our findings reveal (i) changes in the pentose phosphate pathway and amino acid and nucleotide metabolism in a susceptible strain following polymyxin treatment and (ii) how cellular metabolism, lipid A modification, and outer membrane remodeling were altered in K. pneumoniae following the acquisition of polymyxin resistance. Our study provides, for the first time, mechanistic insights into metabolic responses to polymyxin treatment in a multidrug-resistant, NDM-producing K. pneumoniae clinical isolate with acquired polymyxin resistance. Overall, these results will assist in identifying new therapeutic targets to combat and prevent polymyxin resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0085223
Number of pages14
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2023


  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • lipid A modification
  • lipidomics
  • metabolomics
  • phoQ
  • polymyxin

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