Cellular hysteresis as a principle to maximize the efficacy of antibiotic therapy

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Roderich Roemhild, Chaitanya S. Gokhale, Philipp Dirksen, Christopher Blake, Philip Rosenstiel, Arne Traulsen, Dan I. Andersson, and Hinrich Schulenburg

Cellular hysteresis as a principle to maximize the efficacy of antibiotic therapy

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)

115 (39), 9767–9772


Remembering to take your medicine, but also the one you took before!

Antibiotic resistance has become one of the most dramatic threats to global health. While novel treatment options are urgently required, most attempts focus on finding new antibiotic substances. However, their development is costly, and their efficacy is often compromised within short time periods due to the enormous potential of microorganisms for rapid adaptation. Here, we developed a strategy that uses the currently available antibiotics. Our strategy exploits cellular hysteresis, which is the long lasting, transgenerational change in cellular physiology that is induced by one antibiotic and sensitizes bacteria to another subsequently administered antibiotic. Using evolution experiments, mathematical modeling, genomics, and functional genetic analysis, we demonstrate that sequential treatment protocols with high levels of cellular hysteresis constrain the evolving bacteria by (i) increasing extinction frequencies, (ii) reducing adaptation rates, and (iii) limiting emergence of multidrug resistance. Cellular hysteresis is most effective in fast sequential protocols, in which antibiotics are changed within 12 h or 24 h, in contrast to the less frequent changes in cycling protocols commonly implemented in hospitals. We found that cellular hysteresis imposes specific selective pressure on the bacteria that disfavors resistance mutations. Instead, if bacterial populations survive, hysteresis is countered in two distinct ways, either through a process related to antibiotic tolerance or a mechanism controlled by the previously uncharacterized two component regulator CpxS. We conclude that cellular hysteresis can be harnessed to optimize antibiotic therapy, to achieve both enhanced bacterial elimination and reduced resistance evolution.

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