Using Colistin as a Trojan Horse: Inactivation of Gram-Negative Bacteria with Chlorophyllin

Antibiotics (Basel). 2019 Sep 20;8(4):158. doi: 10.3390/antibiotics8040158.


Colistin (polymyxin E) is a membrane-destabilizing antibiotic used against Gram-negative bacteria. We have recently reported that the outer membrane prevents the uptake of antibacterial chlorophyllin into Gram-negative cells. In this study, we used sub-toxic concentrations of colistin to weaken this barrier for a combination treatment of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium with chlorophyllin. In the presence of 0.25 µg/mL colistin, chlorophyllin was able to inactivate both bacteria strains at concentrations of 5-10 mg/L for E. coli and 0.5-1 mg/L for S. Typhimurium, which showed a higher overall susceptibility to chlorophyllin treatment. In accordance with a previous study, chlorophyllin has proven antibacterial activity both as a photosensitizer, illuminated with 12 mW/cm2, and in darkness. Our data clearly confirmed the relevance of the outer membrane in protection against xenobiotics. Combination treatment with colistin broadens chlorophyllin's application spectrum against Gram-negatives and gives rise to the assumption that chlorophyllin together with cell membrane-destabilizing substances may become a promising approach in bacteria control. Furthermore, we demonstrated that colistin acts as a door opener even for the photodynamic inactivation of colistin-resistant (mcr-1-positive) E. coli cells by chlorophyllin, which could help us to overcome this antimicrobial resistance.

Keywords: antibiotic resistance; bacteria; chlorophyll; combination therapy; mcr-1; photosensitization.