Polymyxin causes cell envelope remodelling and stress responses in mcr-1-harbouring Escherichia coli

Sue C. Nang, Mengyao Li, Marina Harper, Eric Mandela, Phillip J. Bergen, Jean Marc Rolain, Yan Zhu, Tony Velkov, Jian Li

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Polymyxins remain important last-line antibiotics against multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria. Unfortunately, polymyxin resistance is emerging and the mobile polymyxin resistance gene, mcr, is contributing to the wide dissemination of polymyxin resistance, especially among Escherichia coli, with mcr-1 being the most commonly found variant. The objective of this study was to provide mechanistic insights into concentration-dependent transcriptomic responses of mcr-harbouring E. coli following polymyxin treatment. An mcr-1-carrying clinical isolate of E. coli (LH30) was treated with polymyxin B at 2 and 8 mg/L. Bacterial cultures were collected before and 1 h following treatment for viable counting and transcriptomic analysis. Growth of E. coli LH30 was unaffected by 2 mg/L polymyxin B, whereas killing of approximately 2 log10 colony-forming units/mL occurred with 8 mg/L at 1 h. All four phosphoethanolamine (pEtN) transferase genes (mcr-1, eptA, eptB and eptC) were upregulated (fold change 2.4–4.0) by 8 mg/L polymyxin B, indicating that pEtN modifications were the preferred polymyxin resistance mechanism. The higher polymyxin B concentration also affected the expression of genes involved in fatty acid, lipopolysaccharide, lipid A, phospholipid biosynthesis, iron homeostasis and oxidative stress pathways. This transcriptomic analysis revealed that cell envelope remodelling, pEtN modification, iron acquisition and oxidative stress protective mechanisms play a key role in the survival of mcr-carrying E. coli treated with polymyxin. These findings provide new mechanistic information at the gene expression level to counter polymyxin resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106505
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Antimicrobial Agents
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • E. coli
  • mcr
  • Polymyxin
  • Resistance
  • Transcriptomics

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