Polymyxins are a last-line therapy against multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa; however, resistance to polymyxins has been increasingly reported. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms of polymyxin activity and resistance is crucial for preserving their clinical usefulness. This study employed comparative metabolomics and transcriptomics to investigate the responses of polymyxin-susceptible P. aeruginosa PAK (polymyxin B MIC, 1 mg/liter) and its polymyxin-resistant pmrB mutant PAKpmrB6 (MIC, 16 mg/liter) to polymyxin B (4, 8, and 128 mg/liter) at 1, 4, and 24 h, respectively. Our results revealed that polymyxin B at 4 mg/liter induced different metabolic and transcriptomic responses between polymyxin-susceptible and -resistant P. aeruginosa. In strain PAK, polymyxin B significantly activated PmrAB and the mediated arn operon, leading to increased 4-amino-4-deoxy-L-arabinose (L-Ara4N) synthesis and the addition to lipid A. In contrast, polymyxin B did not increase lipid A modification in strain PAKpmrB6. Moreover, the syntheses of lipopolysaccharide and peptidoglycan were significantly decreased in strain PAK but increased in strain PAKpmrB6 due to polymyxin B treatment. In addition, 4 mg/liter polymyxin B significantly perturbed phospholipid and fatty acid levels and induced oxidative stress in strain PAK, but not in PAKpmrB6. Notably, the increased trehalose-6-phosphate levels indicate that polymyxin B potentially caused osmotic imbalance in both strains. Furthermore, 8 and 128 mg/liter polymyxin B significantly elevated lipoamino acid levels and decreased phospholipid levels but without dramatic changes in lipid A modification in wild-type and mutant strains, respectively. Overall, this systems study is the first to elucidate the complex and dynamic interactions of multiple cellular pathways associated with the polymyxin mode of action against P. aeruginosa. IMPORTANCE Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been highlighted by the recent WHO Global Priority Pathogen List due to multidrug resistance. Without new antibiotics, polymyxins remain a last-line therapeutic option for this difficult-to-treat pathogen. The emergence of polymyxin resistance highlights the growing threat to our already very limited antibiotic armamentarium and the urgency to understand the exact mechanisms of polymyxin activity and resistance. Integration of the correlative metabolomics and transcriptomics results in the present study discovered that polymyxin treatment caused significant perturbations in the biosynthesis of lipids, lipopolysaccharide, and peptidoglycan, central carbon metabolism, and oxidative stress. Importantly, lipid A modifications were surprisingly rapid in response to polymyxin treatment at clinically relevant concentrations. This is the first study to reveal the dynamics of polymyxin-induced cellular responses at the systems level, which highlights that combination therapy should be considered to minimize resistance to the last-line polymyxins. The results also provide much-needed mechanistic information which potentially benefits the discovery of new-generation polymyxins.
Keywords: Pseudomonas aeruginosa; glycerophospholipids; lipid A modification; lipopolysaccharide; metabolomics; polymyxins; transcriptomics.