Microcins reveal natural mechanisms of bacterial manipulation to inform therapeutic development

Microbiology (Reading). 2022 Apr;168(4):001175. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.001175.


Microcins are an understudied and poorly characterized class of antimicrobial peptides. Despite the existence of only 15 examples, all identified from the Enterobacteriaceae, microcins display diversity in sequence, structure, target cell uptake, cytotoxic mechanism of action and target specificity. Collectively, these features describe some of the unique means nature has contrived for molecules to cross the 'impermeable' barrier of the Gram-negative bacterial outer membrane and inflict cytotoxic effects. Microcins appear to be widely dispersed among different species and in different environments, where they function in regulating microbial communities in diverse ways, including through competition. Growing evidence suggests that microcins may be adapted for therapeutic uses such as antimicrobial drugs, microbiome modulators or facilitators of peptide uptake into cells. Advancing our biological, ecological and biochemical understanding of the roles of microcins in bacterial interactions, and learning how to regulate and modify microcin activity, is essential to enable such therapeutic applications.

Keywords: Gram-negative; antimicrobial; bacteriocin; membrane; microcin; therapeutic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / metabolism
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteriocins* / metabolism
  • Enterobacteriaceae / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacteriocins
  • microcin