Fluorescence high-throughput screening for inhibitors of TonB action

Brittany L. Nairn, Olivia S. Eliasson, Dallas R. Hyder, Noah J. Long, Aritri Majumdar, Somnath Chakravorty, Peter McDonald, Anuradha Roy, Salete M. Newton, Phillip E. Klebba

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13 Scopus citations


Gram-negative bacteria acquire ferric siderophores through TonBdependent outer membrane transporters (TBDT). By fluorescence spectroscopic hghthroughput screening (FLHTS), we identified inhibitors of TonB-dependent ferric enterobactin (FeEnt) uptake through Escherichia coli FepA (EcoFepA). Among 165 inhibitors found in a primary screen of 17,441 compounds, we evaluated 20 in secondary tests: TonB-dependent ferric siderophore uptake and colicin killing and proton motive force-dependent lactose transport. Six of 20 primary hits inhibited TonBdependent activity in all tests. Comparison of their effects on [59Fe]Ent and [14C]lactose accumulation suggested several as proton ionophores, but two chemicals, ebselen and ST0082990, are likely not proton ionophores and may inhibit TonBExbBD. The facility of FLHTS against E. coli led us to adapt it to Acinetobacter baumannii. We identified its FepA ortholog (AbaFepA), deleted and cloned its structural gene, genetically engineered 8 Cys substitutions in its surface loops, labeled them with fluorescein, and made fluorescence spectroscopic observations of FeEnt uptake in A. baumannii. Several Cys substitutions in AbaFepA (S279C, T562C, and S665C) were readily fluoresceinated and then suitable as sensors of FeEnt transport. As in E. coli, the test monitored TonB-dependent FeEnt uptake by AbaFepA. In microtiter format with A. baumannii, FLHTS produced Z= factors 0.6 to 0.8. These data validated the FLHTS strategy against even distantly related Gram-negative bacterial pathogens. Overall, it discovered agents that block TonB-dependent transport and showed the potential to find compounds that act against Gram-negative CRE (carbapenemresistant Enterobacteriaceae)/ESKAPE (Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species) pathogens. Our results suggest that hundreds of such chemicals may exist in larger compound libraries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00889-16
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Yan Shipelskiy for thoughtful discussions regarding the study. This research was supported by grant R21AI115187 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The content of this article does not necessarily represent the views of the NIH or NIAID and is solely the responsibility of the authors

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Society for Microbiology.


  • Acinetobacter baumannii
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • ESKAPE pathogen
  • FepA
  • Ferric enterobactin
  • Fluorescence assays
  • High throughput
  • Iron transport
  • TonB


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