The evolution of antimicrobial peptide resistance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa is severely constrained by random peptide mixtures

Bernardo Antunes, Caroline Zanchi, Paul Johnston, Bar Maron, Christopher Witzany, Roland R. Regoes, Zvi Hayouka*, Jens Rolff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The prevalence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens has become a major threat to public health, requiring swift initiatives for discovering new strategies to control bacterial infections. Hence, antibiotic stewardship and rapid diagnostics, but also the development, and prudent use, of novel effective antimicrobial agents are paramount. Ideally, these agents should be less likely to select for resistance in pathogens than currently available conventional antimicrobials. The usage of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), key components of the innate immune response, and combination therapies, have been proposed as strategies to diminish the emergence of resistance. Herein, we investigated whether newly developed random antimicrobial peptide mixtures (RPMs) can significantly reduce the risk of resistance evolution in vitro to that of single sequence AMPs, using the ESKAPE pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) as a model gram-negative bacterium. Infections of this pathogen are difficult to treat due the inherent resistance to many drug classes, enhanced by the capacity to form biofilms. P. aeruginosa was experimentally evolved in the presence of AMPs or RPMs, subsequentially assessing the extent of resistance evolution and cross-resistance/collateral sensitivity between treatments. Furthermore, the fitness costs of resistance on bacterial growth were studied and whole-genome sequencing used to investigate which mutations could be candidates for causing resistant phenotypes. Lastly, changes in the pharmacodynamics of the evolved bacterial strains were examined. Our findings suggest that using RPMs bears a much lower risk of resistance evolution compared to AMPs and mostly prevents cross-resistance development to other treatments, while maintaining (or even improving) drug sensitivity. This strengthens the case for using random cocktails of AMPs in favour of single AMPs, against which resistance evolved in vitro, providing an alternative to classic antibiotics worth pursuing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2024


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