Overcoming acquired and native macrolide resistance with bicarbonate
The growing challenge of microbial resistance emphasizes the importance of new antibiotics or reviving strategies for the use of old ones. Macrolide antibiotics are potent bacterial protein synthesis inhibitors with a formidable capacity to treat life-threatening bacterial infections, however, acquired and intrinsic resistance limits their clinical application. In the work presented here, we reveal that bicarbonate is a potent enhancer of the activity of macrolide antibiotics that overcomes both acquired and intrinsic resistance mechanisms. With a focus on azithromycin, a highly prescribed macrolide antibiotic, and using clinically relevant pathogens, we show that physiological concentrations of bicarbonate overcome drug resistance by increasing the intracellular concentration of azithromycin. We demonstrate the potential of bicarbonate as a formulation additive for topical use of azithromycin in treating a murine wound infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Further, using a systemic murine model of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, we demonstrate the potential role of physiological bicarbonate, naturally abundant in the host, to enhance the activity of azithromycin against macrolide-resistant MRSA. In all, our findings suggest that macrolide resistance, observed in the clinical microbiology laboratory using standard culturing techniques, is a poor predictor of efficacy in the clinic and that observed resistance should not necessarily hamper the use of macrolides. Whether as a formulation additive for topical use or as a natural component of host tissues, bicarbonate is a powerful potentiator of macrolides with the capacity to overcome drug resistance in life-threatening bacterial infections.