Mapping the Efficacy and Mode of Action of Ethylzingerone [4-(3-Ethoxy-4-Hydroxyphenyl) Butan-2-One] as an Active Agent against Burkholderia Bacteria

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2020 Sep 17;86(19):e01808-20. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01808-20. Print 2020 Sep 17.


Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) bacteria are intrinsically antimicrobial-resistant opportunistic pathogens and key risk species in the contamination of nonfood industrial products. New agents and formulations to prevent growth of Burkholderia in home care (cleaning agents) and personal-care (cosmetics and toiletries) products are required. We characterized how ethylzingerone [4-(3-ethoxy-4-hydroxyphenyl) butan-2-one] (HEPB) acts as a preservative with activity against Burkholderia species encountered in industry. Burkholderia (n = 58) and non-Burkholderia (n = 7) bacteria were screened for susceptibility to HEPB, and its mode of action and resistance were determined for a model Burkholderia vietnamiensis strain using transposon mutagenesis, transcriptomics, and genome resequencing analysis. The susceptibility of Burkholderia spp. to HEPB (MIC = 0.45% ± 0.11% [wt/vol]; MBC = 0.90% ± 0.3% [wt/vol]) was characterized, with limited inter- and intraspecies differences. HEPB (1% [wt/vol]) was rapidly bactericidal, producing a 6-log reduction in viability within 4 h. Spontaneous resistance to HEPB did not develop, but transient phenotypes with altered growth characteristics and susceptibility to antibiotics were identified after prolonged exposure to sublethal HEPB concentrations. Transposon mutagenesis and RNA-sequencing analysis identified multiple genetic pathways associated with HEPB exposure, including stress response mechanisms, altered permeability, regulation of intracellular pH, damage and repair of intracellular components, and alteration and repair of lipopolysaccharides. Key pathways included the stringent response, homeostasis of intracellular pH by the kdp operon, protection against electrophiles by KefC, and repair of oxidized proteins by methionine sulfoxide reductase enzymes. In summary, we show that HEPB has potent, targeted efficacy against Burkholderia bacteria without promoting wider stable antimicrobial resistance. The mode of action of HEPB against Burkholderia is multifactorial, but killing by intracellular oxidation is a key mechanism of this promising agent.IMPORTANCEBurkholderia bacteria are opportunistic pathogens that can overcome preservatives used in the manufacture of nonsterile industrial products and occasionally cause contamination. Consequently, new preservatives to prevent the growth of key risk Burkholderia cepacia complex bacteria in nonfood industrial products are urgently required. Here, we show that ethylzingerone is active against these problematic bacteria, killing them via a multifactorial mode of action which involves intracellular oxidation.

Keywords: Burkholderia; ethylzingerone; genomics; mechanisms of resistance; preservative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Burkholderia / drug effects*
  • Burkholderia / physiology
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Phenylbutyrates / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Phenylbutyrates
  • gamma-hydroxy-gamma-ethyl-gamma-phenylbutyramide