Efflux-mediated Drug Resistance in Bacteria

Drugs. 2004;64(2):159-204. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200464020-00004.


Drug resistance in bacteria, and especially resistance to multiple antibacterials, has attracted much attention in recent years. In addition to the well known mechanisms, such as inactivation of drugs and alteration of targets, active efflux is now known to play a major role in the resistance of many species to antibacterials. Drug-specific efflux (e.g. that of tetracycline) has been recognised as the major mechanism of resistance to this drug in Gram-negative bacteria. In addition, we now recognise that multidrug efflux pumps are becoming increasingly important. Such pumps play major roles in the antiseptic resistance of Staphylococcus aureus, and fluoroquinolone resistance of S. aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Multidrug pumps, often with very wide substrate specificity, are not only essential for the intrinsic resistance of many Gram-negative bacteria but also produce elevated levels of resistance when overexpressed. Paradoxically, 'advanced' agents for which resistance is unlikely to be caused by traditional mechanisms, such as fluoroquinolones and beta-lactams of the latest generations, are likely to select for overproduction mutants of these pumps and make the bacteria resistant in one step to practically all classes of antibacterial agents. Such overproduction mutants are also selected for by the use of antiseptics and biocides, increasingly incorporated into consumer products, and this is also of major concern. We can consider efflux pumps as potentially effective antibacterial targets. Inhibition of efflux pumps by an efflux pump inhibitor would restore the activity of an agent subject to efflux. An alternative approach is to develop antibacterials that would bypass the action of efflux pumps.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / physiology
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / physiology
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Membrane Transport Proteins