Mechanisms of bacterial biocide and antibiotic resistance

Symp Ser Soc Appl Microbiol. 2002;(31):55S-64S.


Resistance to antibiotics is increasingly commonplace amongst important human pathogens. Although the mechanism(s) of resistance vary from agent to agent they typically involve one or more of: alteration of the drug target in the bacterial cell, enzymatic modification or destruction of the drug itself, or limitation of drug accumulation as a result of drug exclusion or active drug efflux. While most of these are agent specific, providing resistance to a single antimicrobial or class of antimicrobial, there are currently numerous examples of efflux systems that accommodate and, thus, provide resistance to a broad range of structurally unrelated antimicrobials--so-called multidrug efflux systems. Resistance to biocides is less common and likely reflects the multiplicity of targets within the cell as well as the general lack of known detoxifying enzymes. Resistance typically results from cellular changes that impact on biocide accumulation, including cell envelope changes that limit uptake, or expression of efflux mechanisms. Still, target site mutations leading to biocide resistance, though rare, are known. Intriguingly, many multidrug efflux systems also accommodate biocides (e.g. triclosan) such that strains expressing these are both antibiotic- and biocide-resistant. Indeed, concern has been expressed regarding the potential for agents such as triclosan to select for strains resistant to multiple clinically-relevant antibiotics. Some of the better characterized examples of such multidrug efflux systems can be found in the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa where they play an important role in the noted intrinsic and acquired resistance of this organism to antibiotics and triclosan. These tripartite pumps include an integral inner membrane drug-proton antiporter, an outer membrane- and periplasm-spanning channel-forming protein and a periplasmic link protein that joins these two. Expression of efflux genes is governed minimally by the product of a linked regulatory gene that is in most cases the target for mutation in multidrug resistant strains hyperexpressing these efflux systems. Issues for consideration include the natural function of these efflux systems and the therapeutic potential of targeting these systems in combating acquired multidrug resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / physiology
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial* / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents