Experimental Evolution of Escherichia coli K-12 in the Presence of Proton Motive Force (PMF) Uncoupler Carbonyl Cyanide m-Chlorophenylhydrazone Selects for Mutations Affecting PMF-Driven Drug Efflux Pumps

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2019 Feb 20;85(5):e02792-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02792-18. Print 2019 Mar 1.


Experimental evolution of Escherichia coli K-12 with benzoate, a partial uncoupler of the proton motive force (PMF), selects for mutations that decrease antibiotic resistance. We conducted experimental evolution in the presence of carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP), a strong uncoupler. Cultures were serially diluted daily 1:100 in LBK medium containing 20 to 150 µM CCCP buffered at pH 6.5 or at pH 8.0. After 1,000 generations, the populations tolerated up to 150 µM CCCP. Sequenced isolates had mutations in mprA (emrR), which downregulates the EmrAB-TolC pump that exports CCCP. A mprA::kanR deletion conferred growth at 60 μM CCCP, though not at the higher levels resisted by evolved strains (150 µM). Some mprA mutant strains also had point mutations affecting emrA, but deletion of emrA abolished the CCCP resistance. Thus, CCCP-evolved isolates contained additional adaptations. One isolate lacked emrA or mprA mutations but had mutations in cecR (ybiH), whose product upregulates drug pumps YbhG and YbhFSR, and in gadE, which upregulates the multidrug pump MdtEF. A cecR::kanR deletion conferred partial resistance to CCCP. Other multidrug efflux genes that had mutations included ybhR and acrAB The acrB isolate was sensitive to the AcrAB substrates chloramphenicol and tetracycline. Other mutant genes in CCCP-evolved strains include rng (RNase G) and cyaA (adenylate cyclase). Overall, experimental evolution revealed a CCCP-dependent fitness advantage for mutations increasing CCCP efflux via EmrA and for mutations that may deactivate proton-driven pumps for drugs not present (cecR, gadE, acrAB, and ybhR). These results are consistent with our previous report of drug sensitivity associated with evolved benzoate tolerance.IMPORTANCE The genetic responses of bacteria to depletion of proton motive force (PMF), and their effects on drug resistance, are poorly understood. PMF drives export of many antibiotics, but the energy cost may decrease fitness when antibiotics are absent. Our evolution experiment reveals genetic mechanisms of adaptation to the PMF uncoupler CCCP, including selection for increased CCCP efflux but also against the expression of PMF-driven pumps for drugs not present. The results have implications for our understanding of the gut microbiome, which experiences high levels of organic acids that decrease PMF.

Keywords: CCCP; acrAB; antibiotic resistance; cecR; emrA; evolution; gadE; mprA (emrR); proton motive force; ybhR.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Carbonyl Cyanide m-Chlorophenyl Hydrazone / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics
  • Escherichia coli K12 / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli K12 / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / genetics
  • Mutation*
  • Proton-Motive Force*
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics
  • Transcription Factors


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • GadE protein, E coli
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • mprA protein, E coli
  • Carbonyl Cyanide m-Chlorophenyl Hydrazone