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Insect-Derived Cecropins Display Activity against Acinetobacter baumannii in a Whole-Animal High-Throughput Caenorhabditis elegans Model

: Jayamani, E.; Rajamuthiah, R.; Larkins-Ford, J.; Fuchs, B.; Conery, A.L.; Vilcinskas, A.; Ausubel, F.M.; Mylonakis, E.


Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy 59 (2015), No.3, 1728-1737
ISSN: 0066-4804
ISSN: 1098-6596
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IME ()

The rise of multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii and a concomitant decrease in antibiotic treatment options warrants a search for new classes of antibacterial agents. We have found that A. baumannii is pathogenic and lethal to the model host organism Caenorhabditis elegans and have exploited this phenomenon to develop an automated, high-throughput, high-content screening assay in liquid culture that can be used to identify novel antibiotics effective against A. baumannii. The screening assay involves coincubating C. elegans with A. baumannii in 384-well plates containing potential antibacterial compounds. At the end of the incubation period, worms are stained with a dye that stains only dead animals, and images are acquired using automated microscopy and then analyzed using an automated image analysis program. This robust assay yields a Z′ factor consistently greater than 0.7. In a pilot experiment to test the efficacy of the assay, we screened a small custom library of synthetic antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) that were synthesized using publicly available sequence data and/or transcriptomic data from immune-challenged insects. We identified cecropin A and 14 other cecropin or cecropin-like peptides that were able to enhance C. elegans survival in the presence of A. baumannii. Interestingly, one particular hit, BR003-cecropin A, a cationic peptide synthesized by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, showed antibiotic activity against a panel of Gram-negative bacteria and exhibited a low MIC (5 μg/ml) against A. baumannii. BR003-cecropin A causes membrane permeability in A. baumannii, which could be the underlying mechanism of its lethality.