The inoculum effect and band-pass bacterial response to periodic antibiotic treatment.


The inoculum effect (IE) refers to the decreasing efficacy of an antibiotic with increasing bacterial density. It represents a unique strategy of antibiotic tolerance and it can complicate design of effective antibiotic treatment of bacterial infections. To gain insight into this phenomenon, we have analyzed responses of a lab strain of Escherichia coli to antibiotics that target the ribosome. We show that the IE can be explained by bistable inhibition of bacterial growth. A critical requirement for this bistability is sufficiently fast degradation of ribosomes, which can result from antibiotic-induced heat-shock response. Furthermore, antibiotics that elicit the IE can lead to 'band-pass' response of bacterial growth to periodic antibiotic treatment: the treatment efficacy drastically diminishes at intermediate frequencies of treatment. Our proposed mechanism for the IE may be generally applicable to other bacterial species treated with antibiotics targeting the ribosomes.





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Publication Info

Tan, Cheemeng, Robert Phillip Smith, Jaydeep K Srimani, Katherine A Riccione, Sameer Prasada, Meta Kuehn and Lingchong You (2012). The inoculum effect and band-pass bacterial response to periodic antibiotic treatment. Mol Syst Biol, 8. p. 617. 10.1038/msb.2012.49 Retrieved from

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Margarethe Joanna Kuehn

Associate Professor of Biochemistry

Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) causes traveler's diarrhea and infant mortality in underdeveloped countries, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen for immunocompromised patients. Like all gram negative bacteria studied to date, ETEC and P. aeruginosa produce small outer membrane vesicles that can serve as delivery "bombs" to host tissues. Vesicles contain a subset of outer membrane and soluble periplasmic proteins and lipids. In tissues and sera of infected hosts, vesicles have been observed to bud from the pathogen and come in close contact with epithelial cells. Despite their association with disease, the ability of pathogenic bacteria to distribute an arsenal of virulence factors to the host cells via vesicles remains relatively unexplored.

In our lab, we focus on the genetic, biochemical and functional features of bacterial vesicle production. Using a genetic screen, we have identified genes essential in the vesiculation process, we have identified specific proteins that are enriched in vesicles, and we have identified critical molecules that govern the internalization of vesicles into host cells. Using biochemical analysis of purified vesicles from cell-free culture supernatants, we have found that heat-labile enterotoxin, an important virulence factor of ETEC, is exported from the cells bound to the external surface of vesicles. Presented in this context, it is able to mediate the entry of the entire ETEC vesicle into human colorectal tissue culture cells. We have also discovered that the ability of vesicles to bind to specific cell types depends on their strain of origin: for example, P. aeruginosa vesicles produced by a strain that was cultured from the lungs of a patient with Cystic Fibrosis adhered better to lung than to gut epithelial cells, whereas a strain that was isolated from sera showed no such preference for lung cells. The vesicles stimulate epithelial cells and macrophages to elicit a cytokine response that is distinct from that of LPS (a major component of the vesicles) alone.

These studies will provide new insights into the membrane dynamics of gram-negative bacteria and consequently aid in the identification of new therapeutic targets for important human pathogens.


Lingchong You

James L. Meriam Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering

The You lab uses a combination of mathematical modeling, machine learning, and quantitative experiments to elucidate principles underlying the dynamics of microbial communities in time and space and to control these dynamics for applications in computation, engineering, and medicine.

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