Outer membrane permeability: Antimicrobials and diverse nutrients bypass porins in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Aug 3;118(31):e2107644118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2107644118.


Gram-negative bacterial pathogens have an outer membrane that restricts entry of molecules into the cell. Water-filled protein channels in the outer membrane, so-called porins, facilitate nutrient uptake and are thought to enable antibiotic entry. Here, we determined the role of porins in a major pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, by constructing a strain lacking all 40 identifiable porins and 15 strains carrying only a single unique type of porin and characterizing these strains with NMR metabolomics and antimicrobial susceptibility assays. In contrast to common assumptions, all porins were dispensable for Pseudomonas growth in rich medium and consumption of diverse hydrophilic nutrients. However, preferred nutrients with two or more carboxylate groups such as succinate and citrate permeated poorly in the absence of porins. Porins provided efficient translocation pathways for these nutrients with broad and overlapping substrate selectivity while efficiently excluding all tested antibiotics except carbapenems, which partially entered through OprD. Porin-independent permeation of antibiotics through the outer-membrane lipid bilayer was hampered by carboxylate groups, consistent with our nutrient data. Together, these results challenge common assumptions about the role of porins by demonstrating porin-independent permeation of the outer-membrane lipid bilayer as a major pathway for nutrient and drug entry into the bacterial cell.

Keywords: antimicrobial resistance; bacterial outer membrane; diffusion; lipid bilayer; membrane transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cell Membrane / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Nutrients / metabolism*
  • Porins / metabolism*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Porins