Phenazine content in the cystic fibrosis respiratory tract negatively correlates with lung function and microbial complexity

Ryan C. Hunter, Vanja Klepac-Ceraj, Magen M. Lorenzi, Hannah Grotzinger, Thomas R. Martin, Dianne K. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Although much is known about how virulence factors affect pathogens and host tissues in vitro, far less is understood about their dynamics in vivo. As a step toward characterizing the chemistry of infected environments, we measured phenazine abundance in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). Phenazines are redoxactive small molecules produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa that damage host epithelia, curb the growth of competing organisms, and play physiologically important roles in the cells that produce them. Here, we quantify phenazines within expectorated sputum, characterize the P. aeruginosa populations responsible for phenazine production, and assess their relationship to CF lung microflora. Chemical analyses of expectorated sputum showed that the concentrations of two phenazines, namely, pyocyanin (PYO) and phenazine-1-carboxylic acid (PCA), were negatively correlated (ρ = -0.68 and -0.57, respectively) with lung function. Furthermore, the highest phenazine concentrations were found in patients whose pulmonary function showed the greatest rates of decline. The constituent P. aeruginosa populations within each patient showed diverse capacities for phenazine production. Early during infection, individual isolates produced more PYO than later during infection. However, total PYO concentrations in sputum at any given stage correlated well with the average production by the total P. aeruginosa population. Finally, bacterial community complexity was negatively correlated with phenazine concentrations and declines in lung function, suggesting a link to the refinement of the overall microbial population. Together, these data demonstrate that phenazines negatively correlate with CF disease states in ways that were previously unknown, and underscore the importance of defining in vivo environmental parameters to better predict clinical outcomes of infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-745
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Biofilm
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Microbiome
  • Phenazine
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa


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