The Mla pathway is critical for Pseudomonas aeruginosa resistance to outer membrane permeabilization and host innate immune clearance

J Mol Med (Berl). 2017 Oct;95(10):1127-1136. doi: 10.1007/s00109-017-1579-4. Epub 2017 Aug 26.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an important opportunistic pathogen that has become a serious problem due to increased rates of antibiotic resistance. Due to this along with a dearth in novel antibiotic development, especially against Gram-negative pathogens, new therapeutic strategies are needed to prevent a post-antibiotic era. Here, we describe the importance of the vacJ/Mla pathway in resisting bactericidal actions of the host innate immune response. P. aeruginosa tn5 transposon mutants in genes from the VacJ/Mla pathway showed increased susceptibility to killing by the host cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide, LL-37, when compared to the wild-type parent strain. The P. aeruginosa vacJ - mutant demonstrated increased membrane permeability upon damage as well as sensitivity to killing in the presence of the detergent sodium dodecyl sulfate and the divalent cation chelator EDTA. When exposed to human whole blood and serum complement, the vacJ - mutant was killed more rapidly when compared to the wild-type parent strain and complemented mutant. Finally, in an in vivo mouse lung infection model, infection with the vacJ - mutant resulted in reduced mortality, lower bacterial burden, and reduced lung damage when compared to the wild-type strain. This study highlights the potential in therapeutically targeting the VacJ/Mla pathway in sensitizing P. aeruginosa to killing by the host innate immune response.

Key messages: • The Mla pathway regulates outer membrane dynamics in human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA). • Disruption of Mla pathway gene vacJ sensitizes PA to host cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide LL-37. • Loss of vacJ expression renders PA more sensitive to human whole blood and serum killing. • Loss of vacJ expression reduces PA survival and virulence in a murine lung infection model. • The Mla pathway merits exploration as a pharmacologic target to sensitize PA to host innate immunity.

Keywords: Antimicrobial peptide; Cathelicidin; Innate immunity; Mla pathway; Pneumonia; Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / immunology*
  • Cathelicidins / immunology
  • Female
  • Gene Deletion
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pseudomonas Infections / immunology*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / immunology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Cathelicidins
  • CAP18 lipopolysaccharide-binding protein