Disrupting the ArcA Regulatory Network Amplifies the Fitness Cost of Tetracycline Resistance in Escherichia coli.

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washington; isb


There is an urgent need for strategies to discover secondary drugs to prevent or disrupt antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is causing >700,000 deaths annually. Here, we demonstrate that tetracycline-resistant (TetR) Escherichia coli undergoes global transcriptional and metabolic remodeling, including downregulation of tricarboxylic acid cycle and disruption of redox homeostasis, to support consumption of the proton motive force for tetracycline efflux. Using a pooled genome-wide library of single-gene deletion strains, at least 308 genes, including four transcriptional regulators identified by our network analysis, were confirmed as essential for restoring the fitness of TetR E. coli during treatment with tetracycline. Targeted knockout of ArcA, identified by network analysis as a master regulator of this new compensatory physiological state, significantly compromised fitness of TetR E. coli during tetracycline treatment. A drug, sertraline, which generated a similar metabolome profile as the arcA knockout strain, also resensitized TetR E. coli to tetracycline. We discovered that the potentiating effect of sertraline was eliminated upon knocking out arcA, demonstrating that the mechanism of potential synergy was through action of sertraline on the tetracycline-induced ArcA network in the TetR strain. Our findings demonstrate that therapies that target mechanistic drivers of compensatory physiological states could resensitize AMR pathogens to lost antibiotics. IMPORTANCE Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is projected to be the cause of >10 million deaths annually by 2050. While efforts to find new potent antibiotics are effective, they are expensive and outpaced by the rate at which new resistant strains emerge. There is desperate need for a rational approach to accelerate the discovery of drugs and drug combinations that effectively clear AMR pathogens and even prevent the emergence of new resistant strains. Using tetracycline-resistant (TetR) Escherichia coli, we demonstrate that gaining resistance is accompanied by loss of fitness, which is restored by compensatory physiological changes. We demonstrate that transcriptional regulators of the compensatory physiologic state are promising drug targets because their disruption increases the susceptibility of TetR E. coli to tetracycline. Thus, we describe a generalizable systems biology approach to identify new vulnerabilities within AMR strains to rationally accelerate the discovery of therapeutics that extend the life span of existing antibiotics.


Institute for Systems Biology