Synthetic ionophores as non-resistant antibiotic adjuvants†
Antimicrobial resistance is a world-wide health care crisis. New antimicrobials must both exhibit potency and thwart the ability of bacteria to develop resistance to them. We report the use of synthetic ionophores as a new approach to developing non-resistant antimicrobials and adjuvants. Most studies involving amphiphilic antimicrobials have focused on either developing synthetic amphiphiles that show ion transport, or developing non-cytotoxic analogs of such peptidic amphiphiles as colistin. We have rationally designed, prepared, and evaluated crown ether-based synthetic ionophores (‘hydraphiles’) that show selective ion transport through bilayer membranes and are toxic to bacteria. We report here that hydraphiles exhibit a broad range of antimicrobial properties and that they function as adjuvants in concert with FDA-approved antibiotics against multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria. Studies described herein demonstrate that benzyl C14 hydraphile (BC14H) shows high efficacy as an antimicrobial. BC14H, at sub-MIC concentrations, forms aggregates of ∼200 nm that interact with the surface of bacteria. Surface-active BC14H then localizes in the bacterial membranes, which increases their permeability. As a result, antibiotic influx into the bacterial cytosol increases in the presence of BCnHs. Efflux pump inhibition and accumulation of substrate was also observed, likely due to disruption of the cation gradient. As a result, BC14H recovers the activity of norfloxacin by 128-fold against resistant Staphylococcus aureus. BC14H shows extremely low resistance development and is less cytotoxic than colistin. Overall, synthetic ionophores represent a new scaffold for developing efficient and non-resistant antimicrobial-adjuvants.