The emergence of antibiotic resistance mechanisms among bacterial pathogens increases the demand for novel treatment strategies. Lately, the contribution of non-coding RNAs to antibiotic resistance and their potential value as drug targets became evident. RNA attenuator elements in mRNA leader regions couple expression of resistance genes to the presence of the cognate antibiotic. Trans-encoded small RNAs (sRNAs) modulate antibiotic tolerance by base-pairing with mRNAs encoding functions important for resistance such as metabolic enzymes, drug efflux pumps, or transport proteins. Bacteria respond with extensive changes of their sRNA repertoire to antibiotics. Each antibiotic generates a unique sRNA profile possibly causing downstream effects that may help to overcome the antibiotic challenge. In consequence, regulatory RNAs including sRNAs and their protein interaction partners such as Hfq may prove useful as targets for antimicrobial chemotherapy. Indeed, several compounds have been developed that kill bacteria by mimicking ligands for riboswitches controlling essential genes, demonstrating that regulatory RNA elements are druggable targets. Drugs acting on sRNAs are considered for combined therapies to treat infections. In this review, we address how regulatory RNAs respond to and establish resistance to antibiotics in bacteria. Approaches to target RNAs involved in intrinsic antibiotic resistance or virulence for chemotherapy will be discussed.
Keywords: Hfq; antibiotic resistance; antimicrobial chemotherapy; attenuation; drug target; non-coding RNA; riboswitch; small RNA.