Identification of bile acid and fatty acid species as candidate rapidly bactericidal agents for topical treatment of gonorrhoea

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2021 Sep 15;76(10):2569-2577. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkab217.


Background: Novel therapeutic strategies are urgently needed for Neisseria gonorrhoeae, given its increasing antimicrobial resistance. Treatment of oropharyngeal N. gonorrhoeae infections has proven particularly challenging, with most reported treatment failures of the first-line drug ceftriaxone occurring at this site and lower cure rates in recent trials of new antibiotics reported for oropharyngeal infections compared with other sites of infection. However, the accessibility of the oropharynx to topical therapeutics provides an opportunity for intervention. Local delivery of a therapeutic at a high concentration would enable the use of non-traditional antimicrobial candidates, including biological molecules that exploit underlying chemical sensitivities of N. gonorrhoeae but lack the potency or pharmacokinetic profiles required for effective systemic administration.

Methods: Two classes of molecules that are thought to limit gonococcal viability in vivo, bile acids and short- and medium-chain fatty acids, were examined for rapid bactericidal activity.

Results: The bile acids deoxycholic acid (DCA) and chenodeoxycholic acid (CDCA), but not other bile acid species, exerted extremely rapid bactericidal properties against N. gonorrhoeae, reducing viability more than 100 000-fold after 1 min. The short-chain fatty acids formic acid and hexanoic acid shared this rapid bactericidal activity. All four molecules are effective against a phylogenetically diverse panel of N. gonorrhoeae strains, including clinical isolates with upregulated efflux pumps and resistance alleles to the most widely used classes of existing antimicrobials. DCA and CDCA are both approved therapeutics for non-infectious indications and are well-tolerated by cultured epithelial cells.

Conclusions: DCA and CDCA are attractive candidates for further development as anti-gonococcal agents.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bile Acids and Salts / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology
  • Gonorrhea* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Fatty Acids