Elucidating the mechanism by which synthetic helper peptides sensitize Pseudomonas aeruginosa to multiple antibiotics

Yushan Xia, Rubén Cebrián, Congjuan Xu, Anne de Jong, Weihui Wu*, Oscar P Kuipers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The emergence and rapid spread of multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria pose a serious threat to global healthcare. There is an urgent need for new antibacterial substances or new treatment strategies to deal with the infections by MDR bacterial pathogens, especially the Gram-negative pathogens. In this study, we show that a number of synthetic cationic peptides display strong synergistic antimicrobial effects with multiple antibiotics against the Gram-negative pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We found that an all-D amino acid containing peptide called D-11 increases membrane permeability by attaching to LPS and membrane phospholipids, thereby facilitating the uptake of antibiotics. Subsequently, the peptide can dissipate the proton motive force (PMF) (reduce ATP production and inhibit the activity of efflux pumps), impairs the respiration chain, promote the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in bacterial cells and induce intracellular antibiotics accumulation, ultimately resulting in cell death. By using a P. aeruginosa abscess infection model, we demonstrate enhanced therapeutic efficacies of the combination of D-11 with various antibiotics. In addition, we found that the combination of D-11 and azithromycin enhanced the inhibition of biofilm formation and elimination of established biofilms. Our study provides a realistic treatment option for combining close-to-nature synthetic peptide adjuvants with existing antibiotics to combat infections caused by P. aeruginosa.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009909
Number of pages26
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number9
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3-Sep-2021

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