Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells adapted to benzalkonium chloride show resistance to other membrane-active agents but not to clinically relevant antibiotics


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Abstract

Our objective was to determine whether strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa can adapt to growth in increasing concentrations of the disinfectant benzalkonium chloride (BKC), and whether co-resistance to clinically relevant antimicrobial agents occurs. Attempts were made to determine what phenotypic alterations accompanied resistance and whether these explained the mechanism of resistance. Strains were serially passaged in increasing concentrations of BKC in static nutrient broth cultures. Serotyping and genotyping were used to determine purity of the cultures. Two strains were examined for cross-resistance to other disinfectants and antibiotics by broth dilution MIC determination. Alterations in outer membrane proteins and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) expressed were examined by SDS–PAGE. Cell surface hydrophobicity and charge, uptake of disinfectant and proportion of specific fatty acid content of outer and cytoplasmic membranes were determined. Two P. aeruginosa strains showed a stable increase in resistance to BKC. Co-resistance to other quaternary ammonium compounds was observed in both strains; chloramphenicol and polymyxin B resistance were observed in one and a reduction in resistance to tobramycin observed in the other. However, no increased resistance to other biocides (chlorhexidine, triclosan, thymol) or antibiotics (ceftazidime, imipenem, ciprofloxacin, tobramycin) was detected. Characteristics accompanying resistance included alterations in outer membrane proteins, uptake of BKC, cell surface charge and hydrophobicity, and fatty acid content of the cytoplasmic membrane, although no evidence was found for alterations in LPS. Each of the two strains had different alterations in phenotype, indicating that such adaptation is unique to each strain of P. aeruginosa and does not result from a single mechanism shared by the whole species.

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