U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in mBio (2013) 4(3):e00021-13. DOI:10.1128/mBio.00021-13


The alarming rise in antibiotic resistance has led to an increase in patient mortality and health care costs. This problem is compounded by the absence of new antibiotics close to regulatory approval. Acinetobacter baumannii is a human pathogen that causes infections primarily in patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and is highly antibiotic resistant. Colistin is one of the last-line antibiotics for treating A. baumannii infections; however, colistin-resistant strains are becoming increasingly common. This cationic antibiotic attacks negatively charged bacterial membranes in a manner similar to that seen with cationic antimicrobials of the innate immune system. We therefore set out to determine if the increasing use of colistin, and emergence of colistin-resistant strains, is concomitant with the generation of cross-resistance to host cationic antimicrobials. We found that there is indeed a positive correlation between resistance to colistin and resistance to the host antimicrobials LL-37 and lysozyme among clinical isolates. Importantly, isolates obtained before and after treatment of individual patients demonstrated that colistin use correlated with increased resistance to cationic host antimicrobials. These data reveal the overlooked risk of inducing cross-resistance to host antimicrobials when treating patients with colistin as a last-line antibiotic.