Disruption of membrane by colistin kills uropathogenic Escherichia coli persisters and enhances killing of other antibiotics

Peng Cui, Hongxia Niu, Wanliang Shi, Shuo Zhang, Hao Zhang, Joseph Margolick, Wenhong Zhang, Ying Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Persisters are small populations of quiescent bacterial cells that survive exposure to bactericidal antibiotics and are responsible for many persistent infections and posttreatment relapses. However, little is known about how to effectively kill persister bacteria. In the work presented here, we found that colistin, a membrane-active antibiotic, was highly active against Escherichia coli persisters at high concentrations (25 or 50 μg/ml). At a clinically relevant lower concentration (10 μg/ml), colistin alone had no apparent effect on E. coli persisters. In combination with other drugs, this concentration of colistin enhanced the antipersister activity of gentamicin and ofloxacin but not that of ampicillin, nitrofurans, and sulfa drugs in vitro. The colistin enhancement effect was most likely due to increased uptake of the other antibiotics, as demonstrated by increased accumulation of fluorescence-labeled gentamicin. Interestingly, colistin significantly enhanced the activity of ofloxacin and nitrofurantoin but not that of gentamicin or sulfa drugs in the murine model of urinary tract infection. Our findings suggest that targeting bacterial membranes is a valuable approach to eradicating persisters and should have implications for more effective treatment of persistent bacterial infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6867-6871
Number of pages5
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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