Identification of an Antimicrobial Agent Effective against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Persisters Using a Fluorescence-Based Screening Strategy.

Research paper by Wooseong W Kim, Annie L AL Conery, Rajmohan R Rajamuthiah, Beth Burgwyn BB Fuchs, Frederick M FM Ausubel, Eleftherios E Mylonakis

Indexed on: 04 Jun '15Published on: 04 Jun '15Published in: PloS one


Persisters are a subpopulation of normal bacterial cells that show tolerance to conventional antibiotics. Persister cells are responsible for recalcitrant chronic infections and new antibiotics effective against persisters would be a major development in the treatment of these infections. Using the reporter dye SYTOX Green that only stains cells with permeabilized membranes, we developed a fluorescence-based screening assay in a 384-well format for identifying compounds that can kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) persisters. The assay proved robust and suitable for high throughput screening (Z`-factor: >0.7). In screening a library of hits from a previous screen, which identified compounds that had the ability to block killing of the nematode Caenorhabditis by MRSA, we discovered that the low molecular weight compound NH125, a bacterial histidine kinase inhibitor, kills MRSA persisters by causing cell membrane permeabilization, and that 5 μg/mL of the compound can kill all cells to the limit of detection in a 108 CFU/mL culture of MRSA persisters within 3h. Furthermore, NH125 disrupts 50% of established MRSA biofilms at 20 μg/mL and completely eradicates biofilms at 160 μg/mL. Our results suggest that the SYTOX Green screening assay is suitable for large-scale projects to identify small molecules effective against MRSA persisters and should be easily adaptable to a broad range of pathogens that form persisters. Since NH125 has strong bactericidal properties against MRSA persisters and high selectivity to bacteria, we believe NH125 is a good anti-MRSA candidate drug that should be further evaluated.