Sugar and iron: Toward understanding the antibacterial effect of ciclopirox in Escherichia coli

PLoS One. 2019 Jan 11;14(1):e0210547. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210547. eCollection 2019.


New antibiotics are needed against antibiotic-resistant gram-negative bacteria. The repurposed antifungal drug, ciclopirox, equally blocks antibiotic-susceptible or multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae clinical isolates, indicating that it is not affected by existing resistance mechanisms. Toward understanding how ciclopirox blocks growth, we screened E. coli mutant strains and found that disruption of genes encoding products involved in galactose salvage, enterobacterial common antigen synthesis, and transport of the iron binding siderophore, enterobactin, lowered the minimum inhibitory concentration of ciclopirox needed to block growth of the mutant compared to the isogenic parent strain. We found that ciclopirox induced enterobactin production and that this effect is strongly affected by the deletion of the galactose salvage genes encoding UDP-galactose 4-epimerase, galE, or galactose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase, galT. As disruption of ECA synthesis activates the regulation of capsular synthesis (Rcs) phosphorelay, which inhibits bacterial swarming and promotes biofilm development, we test whether ciclopirox prevents activation of the Rcs pathway. Sub-inhibitory concentrations of ciclopirox increased swarming of the E. coli laboratory K12 strain BW25113 but had widely varying effects on swarming or surface motility of clinical isolate E. coli, A. baumannii, and K. pneumoniae. There was no effect of ciclopirox on biofilm production, suggesting it does not target Rcs. Altogether, our data suggest ciclopirox-mediated alteration of lipopolysaccharides stimulates enterobactin production and affects bacterial swarming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter baumannii / drug effects
  • Acinetobacter baumannii / genetics
  • Acinetobacter baumannii / metabolism
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacology
  • Ciclopirox / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Enterobactin / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Galactose / metabolism
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Klebsiella / drug effects
  • Klebsiella / genetics
  • Klebsiella / metabolism
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mutation
  • Siderophores / metabolism
  • Sugars / analysis*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antifungal Agents
  • Siderophores
  • Sugars
  • Ciclopirox
  • Enterobactin
  • Iron
  • Galactose