Polymyxin Induces Significant Transcriptomic Perturbations of Cellular Signalling Networks in Human Lung Epithelial Cells

Mengyao Li, Mohammad A.K. Azad, Maizbha U. Ahmed, Yan Zhu, Jiangning Song, Fanfan Zhou, Hak Kim Chan, Tony Velkov, Qi Tony Zhou, Jian Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Inhaled polymyxins are increasingly used to treat pulmonary infections caused by multidrug-resistant Gram-negative pathogens. We have previously shown that apoptotic pathways, autophagy and oxidative stress are involved in polymyxin-induced toxicity in human lung epithelial cells. In the present study, we employed human lung epithelial cells A549 treated with polymyxin B as a model to elucidate the complex interplay of multiple signalling networks underpinning cellular responses to polymyxin toxicity. Polymyxin B induced toxicity (1.0 mM, 24 h) in A549 cells was assessed by flow cytometry and transcriptomics was performed using microarray. Polymyxin B induced cell death was 19.0 ± 4.2% at 24 h. Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between the control and polymyxin B treated cells were identified with Student’s t-test. Pathway analysis was conducted with KEGG and Reactome and key hub genes related to polymyxin B induced toxicity were examined using the STRING database. In total we identified 899 DEGs (FDR < 0.01), KEGG and Reactome pathway analyses revealed significantly up-regulated genes related to cell cycle, DNA repair and DNA replication. NF-κB and nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain-like receptor (NOD) signalling pathways were identified as markedly down-regulated genes. Network analysis revealed the top 5 hub genes (i.e., degree) affected by polymyxin B treatment were PLK1 (48), CDK20 (46), CCNA2 (42), BUB1 (40) and BUB1B (37). Overall, perturbations of cell cycle, DNA damage and pro-inflammatory NF-κB and NOD-like receptor signalling pathways play key roles in polymyxin-induced toxicity in human lung epithelial cells. Noting that NOD-like receptor signalling represents a group of key sensors for microorganisms and damage in the lung, understanding the mechanism of polymyxin-induced pulmonary toxicity will facilitate the optimisation of polymyxin inhalation therapy in patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number307
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Lung epithelial cells
  • Polymyxin
  • Pulmonary toxicity
  • Transcriptomics

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