Resurgence of colistin: a review of resistance, toxicity, pharmacodynamics, and dosing

Pharmacotherapy. 2010 Dec;30(12):1279-91. doi: 10.1592/phco.30.12.1279.


Colistin is a polymyxin antibiotic that was discovered in the late 1940s for the treatment of gram-negative infections. After several years of clinical use, its popularity diminished because of reports of significant nephrotoxicity and neurotoxicity. Recently, the antibiotic has resurfaced as a last-line treatment option for multidrug-resistant organisms such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Klebsiella pneumoniae. The need for antibiotics with coverage of these gram-negative pathogens is critical because of their high morbidity and mortality, making colistin a very important treatment option. Unfortunately, however, resistance to colistin has been documented among all three of these organisms in case reports. Although the exact mechanism causing colistin resistance has not been defined, it is hypothesized that the PmrA-PmrB and PhoP-PhoQ genetic regulatory systems may play a role. Colistin dosages must be optimized, as colistin is a last-line treatment option; in addition, suboptimal doses have been linked to the development of resistance. The lack of pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies and no universal harmonization of dose units, however, have made it difficult to derive optimal dosing regimens and specific dosing guidelines for colistin. In critically ill patients who may have multiorgan failure, renal insufficiency may alter colistin pharmacokinetics. Therefore, dosage alterations in this patient population are imperative to achieve maximal efficacy and minimal toxicity. With regard to colistin toxicity, most studies show that nephrotoxicity is reversible and less frequent than once thought, and neurotoxicity is rare. Further research is needed to fully understand the impact that the two regulatory systems have on resistance, as well as the dosages of colistin needed to inhibit and overcome these developing patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Colistin / adverse effects
  • Colistin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Colistin / pharmacokinetics
  • Colistin / pharmacology
  • Colistin / therapeutic use*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / drug therapy*
  • Humans


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • colistinmethanesulfonic acid
  • Colistin