Bacterial conjugation is a key mechanism by which bacteria acquire antibiotic resistance. Therefore, conjugation inhibitors (COINs) are promising compounds in the fight against the spread of antibiotic resistance genes among bacteria. Unsaturated fatty acids (uFAs) and alkynoic fatty acid derivatives, such as 2-hexadecanoic acid (2-HDA), have been reported previously as being effective COINs. The traffic ATPase TrwD, a VirB11 homolog in plasmid R388, is the molecular target of these compounds, which likely affect binding of TrwD to bacterial membranes. In this work, we demonstrate that COINs are abundantly incorporated into Escherichia coli membranes, replacing palmitic acid as the major component of the membrane. We also show that TrwD binds palmitic acid, thus facilitating its interaction with the membrane. Our findings also suggest that COINs bind TrwD at a site that is otherwise occupied by palmitic acid. Accordingly, molecular docking predictions with palmitic acid indicated that it shares the same binding site as uFAs and 2-HDA, although it differs in the contacts involved in this interaction. We also identified 2-bromopalmitic acid, a palmitate analog that inhibits many membrane-associated enzymes, as a compound that effectively reduces TrwD ATPase activity and bacterial conjugation. Moreover, we demonstrate that 2-bromopalmitic and palmitic acids both compete for the same binding site in TrwD. Altogether, these detailed findings open up a new avenue in the search for effective synthetic inhibitors of bacterial conjugation, which may be pivotal for combating multidrug-resistant bacteria.
Vibrio cholerae O1 El Tor is an aquatic Gram-negative bacterium responsible for the current seventh pandemic of the diarrheal disease, cholera. A previous whole-genome analysis on V. cholerae O1 El Tor strains from the 2010 epidemic in Pakistan showed that all strains contained the V. cholerae pathogenicity island-1 and the accessory colonisation gene acfC (VC_0841). Here we show that acfC possess an open reading frame of 770 bp encoding a protein with a predicted size of 28 kDa, which shares high amino acid similarity with two adhesion proteins found in other enteropathogens, including Paa in serotype O45 porcine enteropathogenic Escherichia coli and PEB3 in Campylobacter jejuni. Using a defined acfC deletion mutant, we studied the specific role of AcfC in V. cholerae O1 El Tor environmental survival, colonisation and virulence in two infection model systems (Galleria mellonella and infant rabbits). Our results indicate that AcfC might be a periplasmic sulfate-binding protein that affects chemotaxis towards mucin and bacterial infectivity in the infant rabbit model of cholera. Overall, our findings suggest that AcfC contributes to the chemotactic response of WT V. cholerae and plays an important role in defining the overall distribution of the organism within the intestine.
Conjugative plasmids are the main carriers of transmissible antibiotic resistance (AbR) genes. For that reason, strategies to control plasmid transmission have been proposed as potential solutions to prevent AbR dissemination. Natural mechanisms that bacteria employ as defense barriers against invading genomes, such as restriction-modification or CRISPR-Cas systems, could be exploited to control conjugation. Besides, conjugative plasmids themselves display mechanisms to minimize their associated burden or to compete with related or unrelated plasmids. Thus, FinOP systems, composed of FinO repressor protein and FinP antisense RNA, aid plasmids to regulate their own transfer; exclusion systems avoid conjugative transfer of related plasmids to the same recipient bacteria; and fertility inhibition systems block transmission of unrelated plasmids from the same donor cell. Artificial strategies have also been designed to control bacterial conjugation. For instance, intrabodies against R388 relaxase expressed in recipient cells inhibit plasmid R388 conjugative transfer; pIII protein of bacteriophage M13 inhibits plasmid F transmission by obstructing conjugative pili; and unsaturated fatty acids prevent transfer of clinically relevant plasmids in different hosts, promoting plasmid extinction in bacterial populations. Overall, a number of exogenous and endogenous factors have an effect on the sophisticated process of bacterial conjugation. This review puts them together in an effort to offer a wide picture and inform research to control plasmid transmission, focusing on Gram-negative bacteria.
Bacteria display a variety of mechanisms to control plasmid conjugation. Among them, fertility inhibition (FI) systems prevent conjugation of co-resident plasmids within donor cells. Analysis of the mechanisms of inhibition between conjugative plasmids could provide new alternatives to fight antibiotic resistance dissemination. In this work, inhibition of conjugation of broad host range IncW plasmids was analyzed in the presence of a set of co-resident plasmids. Strong FI systems against plasmid R388 conjugation were found in IncF/MOBF12 as well as in IncI/MOBP12 plasmids, represented by plasmids F and R64, respectively. In both cases, the responsible gene was pifC, known also to be involved in FI of IncP plasmids and Agrobacterium T-DNA transfer to plant cells. It was also discovered that the R388 gene osa, which affects T-DNA transfer, also prevented conjugation of IncP-1/MOBP11 plasmids represented by plasmids RP4 and R751. Conjugation experiments of different mobilizable plasmids, helped by either FI-susceptible or FI-resistant transfer systems, demonstrated that the conjugative component affected by both PifC and Osa was the type IV conjugative coupling protein. In addition, in silico analysis of FI proteins suggests that they represent recent acquisitions of conjugative plasmids, i.e., are not shared by members of the same plasmid species. This implies that FI are rapidly-moving accessory genes, possibly acting on evolutionary fights between plasmids for the colonization of specific hosts.
Bacterial conjugation is the main mechanism responsible for the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes. Hence, the search for specific conjugation inhibitors is paramount in the fight against the spread of these genes. In this pursuit, unsaturated fatty acids have been found to specifically inhibit bacterial conjugation. Despite the growing interest on these compounds, their mode of action and their specific target remain unknown. Here, we identified TrwD, a Type IV secretion traffic ATPase, as the molecular target for fatty acid-mediated inhibition of conjugation. Moreover, 2-alkynoic fatty acids, which are also potent inhibitors of bacterial conjugation, are also powerful inhibitors of the ATPase activity of TrwD. Characterization of the kinetic parameters of ATPase inhibition has led us to identify the catalytic mechanism by which fatty acids exert their activity. These results open a new avenue for the rational design of inhibitors of bacterial conjugation in the fight against the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes.
Bacterial conjugation is the main mechanism for the dissemination of multiple antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. This dissemination could be controlled by molecules that interfere with the conjugation process. A search for conjugation inhibitors among a collection of 1,632 natural compounds, identified tanzawaic acids A and B as best hits. They specially inhibited IncW and IncFII conjugative systems, including plasmids mobilized by them. Plasmids belonging to IncFI, IncI, IncL/M, IncX and IncH incompatibility groups were targeted to a lesser extent, whereas IncN and IncP plasmids were unaffected. Tanzawaic acids showed reduced toxicity in bacterial, fungal or human cells, when compared to synthetic conjugation inhibitors, opening the possibility of their deployment in complex environments, including natural settings relevant for antibiotic resistance dissemination.
Bacterial conjugation constitutes a major horizontal gene transfer mechanism for the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes among human pathogens. Antibiotic resistance spread could be halted or diminished by molecules that interfere with the conjugation process. In this work, synthetic 2-alkynoic fatty acids were identified as a novel class of conjugation inhibitors. Their chemical properties were investigated by using the prototype 2-hexadecynoic acid and its derivatives. Essential features of effective inhibitors were the carboxylic group, an optimal long aliphatic chain of 16 carbon atoms, and one unsaturation. Chemical modification of these groups led to inactive or less-active derivatives. Conjugation inhibitors were found to act on the donor cell, affecting a wide number of pathogenic bacterial hosts, including Escherichia, Salmonella, Pseudomonas, and Acinetobacter spp. Conjugation inhibitors were active in inhibiting transfer of IncF, IncW, and IncH plasmids, moderately active against IncI, IncL/M, and IncX plasmids, and inactive against IncP and IncN plasmids. Importantly, the use of 2-hexadecynoic acid avoided the spread of a derepressed IncF plasmid into a recipient population, demonstrating the feasibility of abolishing the dissemination of antimicrobial resistances by blocking bacterial conjugation.