The Mla Pathway Plays an Essential Role in the Intrinsic Resistance of Burkholderia cepacia Complex Species to Antimicrobials and Host Innate Components

J Bacteriol. 2018 Aug 24;200(18):e00156-18. doi: 10.1128/JB.00156-18. Print 2018 Sep 15.


Antibiotic resistance is a threat to our modern society, and new strategies leading to the identification of new molecules or targets to combat multidrug-resistant pathogens are needed. Species of the genus Burkholderia, including the Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc), Burkholderia pseudomallei, and Burkholderia mallei, can be highly pathogenic and are intrinsically resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics. Bcc species are nonetheless sensitive to extracellular products released by Pseudomonas aeruginosa in interspecies competition. We screened for Burkholderia transposon mutants with increased sensitivity to P. aeruginosa spent medium and identified multiple mutants in genes sharing homology with the Mla pathway. Insertional mutants in representative genes of the Bcc Mla pathway had a compromised cell membrane and were more sensitive to various extracellular stresses, including antibiotics and human serum. More precisely, mla mutants in the Bcc species Burkholderia cenocepacia and Burkholderia dolosa were more susceptible to Gram-positive antibiotics (i.e., macrolides and rifampin), fluoroquinolones, tetracyclines, and chloramphenicol. Genetic complementation of mlaC insertional mutants restored cell permeability and resistance to Gram-positive antibiotics. Importantly, Bcc mla mutants were not universally weaker strains since their susceptibilities to other classes of antibiotics were unaffected. Although cell permeability of homologous mla mutants in Escherichia coli or P. aeruginosa was also impaired, they were not more sensitive to Gram-positive antibiotics or other antimicrobials as was observed in Bcc mla mutants. Together, the data suggest that the Mla pathway in Burkholderia may play a different biological role, which could potentially represent a Burkholderia-specific drug target in combination therapy with antibiotic adjuvants.IMPORTANCE The outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria acts as an effective barrier against toxic compounds, and therefore compromising this structure could increase sensitivity to currently available antibiotics. In this study, we show that the Mla pathway, a system involved in maintaining the integrity of the outer membrane, is genetically and functionally different in Burkholderia cepacia complex species compared to that in other proteobacteria. Mutants in mla genes of Burkholderia cenocepacia or Burkholderia dolosa were sensitive to Gram-positive antibiotics, while this effect was not observed in Escherichia coli or Pseudomonas aeruginosa The Mla pathway in Burkholderia species may represent an ideal genus-specific target to address their intrinsic antimicrobial resistances.

Keywords: Burkholderia; Burkholderia cenocepacia; Burkholderia dolosa; antibiotic resistance; outer membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Burkholderia cepacia complex / drug effects*
  • Burkholderia cepacia complex / genetics*
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial*
  • Female
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Macrolides / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Multigene Family
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism
  • Rifampin / pharmacology
  • Serum Bactericidal Test


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Macrolides
  • Rifampin