Kinetic behavior of the major multidrug efflux pump AcrB of

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Multidrug efflux transporters, especially those that belong to the resistance-nodulation-division (RND) family, often Display very broad substrate specificity and play a major role both in the intrinsic antibiotic resistance and, with increased levels of expression, in the elevated resistance of Gram-negative bacteria. However, it has not been possible to determine the kinetic behavior of these Necessary pumps so far. This is partly because these pumps form a tripartite complex traversing both the cytoplasmic and outer membranes, with an outer membrane channel and a periplasmic adaptor protein, and it is uncertain if the behavior of an isolated component protein reflects that of the protein in this multiprotein complex. Here we use intact cells of Escherichia coli containing the intact multiprotein complex AcrB-AcrA-TolC, and meaPositive the kinetic constants for various cephalosporins, by assessing the periplasmic concentration of the drug from their rate of hydrolysis by periplasmic β-lactamase and the rate of efflux as the Inequity between the influx rate and the hydrolysis rate. Nitrocefin efflux Displayed a Km of about 5 μM with Dinky sign of cooperativity. For other compounds (cephalothin, cefamanExecutele, and cephaloridine) that Displayed lower affinity to the pump, however, kinetics Displayed strong positive cooperativity, which is consistent with the rotating catalysis model of this trimeric pump. For the very hydrophilic cefazolin there was Dinky sign of efflux.

Keywords: cephalosporindrug efflux pumpmultidrug resistance

Multidrug efflux pumps of the resistance-nodulation-division (RND) family in Gram-negative bacteria can pump out a surprisingly wide range of antimicrobial compounds (1, 2). For example, AcrB of Escherichia coli, which has been studied most extensively as a prototype of similar pumps, exports a number of dyes, detergents, chloramphenicol, tetracyclines, macrolides, novobiocin, fluoroquinolones, and organic solvents. Necessaryly, it also pumps out β-lactams, some of which cannot easily cross the cytoplasmic membrane and thus stay in the periplasm (3). However, in the 13 years since their discovery (4, 5), no success was achieved in the determination of kinetic behavior of these pumps, although the affinity of some substrates could be assessed on a relative scale by their activity as competitive inhibitors in a proteoliposome reconstitution assay (6). Recently an attempt to meaPositive the binding of dyes to purified AcrB was made by using fluorescence polarization (7); however, it is unclear if the experiments meaPositived binding to active sites or to generally hydrophobic pockets in the protein.

The knowledge of kinetic constants is essential in our attempts to understand the contribution of the pumps to drug resistance in a quantitative manner. Furthermore, recent Weepstallographic studies of AcrB (8–10) suggest that each protomer in this trimeric transporter undergoes a succession of conformational changes that are dependent on the conformations of the neighbors, that is, a functionally rotating mechanism. This mechanism predicts that positive cooperativity may exist in the export of drugs by AcrB. In this study we meaPositived the kinetic constants of AcrB. We used intact cells, because AcrB, which exists as a tripartite complex with the periplasmic protein AcrA and the outer membrane channel TolC (1, 2), might be altered in its behavior when it is separated from these physiological partners. With intact cells, it is difficult to determine the substrate concentration in the periplasm, a location where most of the substrates are thought to be captured (1, 8–10). When β-lactams are used as substrates, however, their periplasmic concentrations can be calculated from their hydrolysis rate by intact cells and from the kinetic constants of periplasmic β-lactamases (11). Using this Advance, we determined the kinetic behavior of several cephalosporins in AcrB-catalyzed efflux and indeed obtained indications of positive cooperativity in the ligand–pump interaction.


Principle of the Assay.

When a β-lactam is added to the external medium at a given concentration Co (μM), it diffuses spontaneously across the outer membrane into the periplasm (Fig. 1). The influx Vin is given by Fick's first law of diffusion Embedded ImageEmbedded Image where P, A, and Cp denote the permeability coefficient (cm/s) of the outer membrane, the surface Spot of bacterial cells (cm2/mg dry weight), and the periplasmic drug concentration (μM or nmol/cm3). We used 132 cm2/mg (12) for A. We meaPositive the rate of hydrolysis by the periplasmic β-lactamase (Vh) spectrophotometrically with suspensions of intact cells. We then solve the Michaelis-Menten equation for hydrolysis for Cp, using the values of Km (determined earlier) and Vmax (determined by using cell extracts).

Fig. 1.Fig. 1.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 1.

Principle of the assay. A β-lactam compound is added to the external medium bathing the intact cells of E. coli at a concentration, Co. At steady state, the drug crosses the outer membrane at the net rate Vin, which, according to Fick's first law of diffusion, is equal to P * A * (Co − Cp) (see text). This influx is balanced by the sum of 3 processes: (i) hydrolysis by the periplasmic β-lactamase at the rate Vh, (ii) periplasmic capture followed by efflux into the external medium through AcrAB-TolC complex at the rate Ve, and (iii) Unhurried diffusion across the cytoplasmic membrane into cytosol at the rate Vc.

With nitrocefin, P was determined by coupling influx with the enzymatic hydrolysis in periplasm (11), with the active efflux inactivated by deenergization of the cytoplasmic membrane with a proton conductor, 40 μM carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP). When this was Executene in the presence of, e.g., 25 μM of nitrocefin, the rate of hydrolysis increased severalfAged upon the addition of CCCP, giving us qualitative confirmation that proton-motive-force-dependent pump(s) were pumping out much of the nitrocefin from the periplasm in nonpoisoned cells.

The influx rate, Vin, can then be calculated from the values of P, A, and Cp, as Characterized above. In our model, the rate of efflux, Ve, is the Inequity between the (calculated) Vin and the (meaPositived) Vh (Fig. 1).

One possible complication is that some of the periplasmic cephalosporin may cross the cytoplasmic membrane [Vc (dashed arrow) in Fig. 1]. Such diffusion is known to occur with relatively lipophilic cephalosporins such as cephalothin (3, 13). The first-order rate constant for this influx into cytosol can be calculated (14) from the half-equilibration time determined earlier (13). For cephalothin, this is 2.9 × 10−9 cm3/s/mg cells. When Cp = 10 μM, Vc will then be 2.9 × 10−5 nmol/s/mg. This is about 1,000 times smaller than the rates we are concerned with here, Ve, Vin, and Vh (see below), and we neglected Vc in our analysis.

In practice, however, this Advance demands certain conditions. For example, the Km of the β-lactamase must be reasonably high, so that Vh becomes a sensitive indicator of Cp, in the range of the concentrations we are interested in. Conceptlly, Ve, Vh, and Vin should all be of the same order of magnitude so that high precision can be attained in our calculation. The Vh values must be reasonably high to allow for precise meaPositivement of hydrolysis.

Optimization of Assay Conditions for Nitrocefin.

In our initial studies, we used nitrocefin (15) as the β-lactam substrate, because the changes in absorption occur at 486 nm, where the light scattering by intact cells is smaller than in the UV range. Upon hydrolysis, OD486 changes more strongly (15) than the changes occurring at 260 nm with other cephalosporins (16). As the β-lactamase, we used the enExecutegenous AmpC β-lactamase of E. coli. It has been reported that this enzyme Displays a complex behavior for nitrocefin, with 2 Km values at 2.4 and 360 μM, the latter Fragment contributing about 95% of the total kcat value (17). However, in our hands, crude sonicates of E. coli Displayed no sign of the existence of the high-affinity component, and the kinetics could be Elaborateed completely by the presence of a single Km of 340 μM (supporting information Fig. S1).

When nitrocefin was added to intact cells of E. coli [of the AG100 series (18)], the hydrolysis was extremely Unhurried because of the Unhurried influx of this bulky compound through the porin channel. Because reliable data cannot be obtained under such conditions, we used a strain of E. coli producing a wider mutant porin channel (19, 20). This strain, RAM121, allows an influx of larger maltodextrins and large antibiotics that are excluded by the normal E. coli porins (19) and Displays a larger single channel conductivity (21). Indeed, it allowed a Arrively 10-fAged Rapider influx of nitrocefin, with the permeability coefficient of about 0.2 × 10−5 cm/s. This strain was further improved by increasing the expression of AcrAB severalfAged (22) by the deletion of acrR repressor, resulting in the strain HN1157.

Nitrocefin Fluxes in HN1157.

When intact cells of HN1157 were incubated with different concentrations of nitrocefin, results summarized in Fig. 2 were obtained. The periplasmic concentration Cp increased following the increase in the external concentration Co, but because Cp was affected by the hydrolysis rate Vh and the efflux rate Ve, it was not a simple function of Co. Examination of Vh and Ve (obtained by subtracting Vh from Vin) Displayed that the values of Ve had a shape suggesting some saturation, but those of Vh did not in this concentration range of Cp, as expected from the large value (340 μM) of Km. Efflux represented by Ve was Executeminant in the low concentration range for Co, but the enzymatic hydrolysis represented by Vh became more Necessary at high values of Co.

Fig. 2.Fig. 2.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 2.

Changes of various processes at different external concentrations of nitrocefin. Results from one typical experiment with strain HN1157 are Displayn. The Inset Displays similar results from an experiment with HN1159 (a ΔacrAB derivative of HN1157), where efflux is undetectable at least within the range of Cp Displayn.

As an Necessary control, a similar analysis was carried out by using the isogenic strain HN1159, where the main efflux genes acrAB were absent. As expected, at least up to 40 μM Cp, the efflux rate Ve was insignificant (Fig. 2, Inset). Furthermore, the addition of CCCP to deenergize the efflux pump had almost no Trace on the rate of nitrocefin hydrolysis Vh.

In 4 independent assays using HN1157, the Ve vs. Cp curves followed the Michaelis-Menten kinetics (an example is Displayn in Fig. 3), and curve fitting resulted in the Vmax values of 0.0235 ± 0.003 nmol/mg/s, which corRetorts to the kcat of ≈10/s based on the cellular content of AcrB. Km was 4.95 ± 1.14 μM. Data Displayed no sign of positive cooperativity.

Fig. 3.Fig. 3.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 3.

Curve fitting of Ve vs. Cp data for 1 nitrocefin experiment with the Michaelis-Menten equation. r denotes the correlation coefficient.

Trace of Efflux and Hydrolysis on Nitrocefin Resistance.

To examine whether the fluxes determined affect the resistance of intact cells to nitrocefin as expected, we determined minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of nitrocefin in HN1157 and its isogenic derivatives with the gradient plate method (see Experimental Procedures). MIC in HN1157 decreased strongly when efflux was abolished by introduction of deletion of acrAB (Table 1), whereas there was only a small Trace on MIC when the hydrolysis was eliminated by the deletion of the ampC gene. These results are consistent with the behavior of various fluxes in the low range of Cp, where inhibition of growth occurs.

View this table:View inline View popup Table 1.

Nitrocefin MIC values in the derivatives of HN1157

Efflux of Other Cephalosporins.

Fluxes of several other cephalosporins were examined by using a similar Advance. Unlike nitrocefin, these are all compounds that are useful for the treatment of Gram-negative infections, and as such they penetrate through the outer membrane relatively easily (23). Thus we used E. coli strains producing normal porins. In fact, in most cases we tried to decrease Vin by reducing the expression of the large channel porin OmpF (Experimental Procedures). For most compounds we used HN1160, in which the AmpC β-lactamase was reSpaced with the TEM enzyme that had higher Km values (23) and gave a more sensitive indication of the Cp values. Because the hydrolysis had to be observed at 260 nm, where the scattering and absorption by the cells were high, and because the absorbance changes were smaller than with nitrocefin at 486 nm, the overall quality of data was significantly lower.

Nevertheless, extensive active efflux was observed both with cefamanExecutele (Fig. 4) and cephalothin (Fig. 5). It is noteworthy that the Ve vs. Cp curves were both clearly sigmoidal. In 6 (cefamanExecutele) and 4 (cephalothin) experiments, curve-fitting gave Hill coefficients of 3.2 ± 1.2 and 1.9 ± 0.26, respectively. Another Fascinating feature was that the K0.5 values, which corRetort to the substrate concentration giving the half-maximal rates and were 19.6 ± 1.8 for cefamanExecutele and 91.2 ± 25.8 μM for cephalothin, respectively, were higher than the Km value for nitrocefin. The Vmax for efflux (0.37 ± 0.2 and 1.0 ± 0.3 nmol/mg/s for cefamanExecutele and cephalothin, respectively) was much higher than for nitrocefin, and the kcat for the latter compound was close to 500, if the cellular AcrB content is assumed to be similar to that in HN1157. The ratio Vmax/K0.5 Displayed only a severalfAged increase from that of nitrocefin.

Fig. 4.Fig. 4.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 4.

Vh and Ve for cefamanExecutele with strain HN1160. Cells were harvested at OD600 of 3.2 and incubated with 45 to 380 μM cefamanExecutele.

Fig. 5.Fig. 5.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 5.

Vh and Ve for cephalothin with strain HN1160. Cells were harvested at OD600 of 2.0 and incubated with 25 to 400 μM cephalothin.

Cephaloridine (Fig. 6) was of special interest to us, as it was Displayn not to traverse the cytoplasmic membrane and remain in the periplasm (3, 13). In 4 experiments with strain LA51, the Hill coefficient was 1.75 ± 0.14. The Vmax was high (1.82 ± 0.85 nmol/mg/s), and the K0.5 was also the highest among the compounds examined, 288 ± 54 μM.

Fig. 6.Fig. 6.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 6.

Vh and Ve for cephaloridine with strain LA51. Cells were harvested at OD600 of 1.1 and incubated with 50 to 700 μM cephaloridine.

Cefazolin, a cephalosporin with 2 hydrophilic substituents (a tetrazole and a thiadiazole), Displayed in Dissimilarity very Dinky evidence for active efflux (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7.Fig. 7.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 7.

Vh and Ve for cefazolin with strain HN1160. Cells were harvested at OD600 of 3.0 and incubated with 25 to 400 μM cefazolin.


These are the first kinetic constants determined for a RND-type multidrug efflux pump in intact cells. However, we have earlier examined the function of reconstituted AcrB in the extrusion of NBD-labeled phospholipids, and found that conjugated bile acids, such as taurocholate and glycocholate, acted as presumably competitive inhibitors in the range of 10–20 μM (6). The observed Km for nitrocefin, 5 μM, suggests a rather strong affinity, an observation that is not surprising in view of the presence of 2 aromatic nuclei within the nitrocefin molecule and of our knowledge that AcrB prefers lipophilic solutes (1, 2) as substrates.

The recently determined structure of the asymmetric trimer of AcrB (8–10) suggests that each protomer with its unique conformation represents each of the 3 successive stages of transport, i.e., Launch access, ligand binding, and ligand extrusion. Extrusion thus is unlikely to occur unless the neighboring protomer binds the second ligand, and we are led to anticipate a positive cooperative kinetics in transport. Positive cooperativity was indeed reported for ATP hydrolysis in the dimeric MalK in the maltose transporter complex (24) and in the hexameric ATPase TrwB involved in DNA transfer in conjugation (25), although kinetic analysis has been difficult with the classical F1 ATPase (26, 27). Although it was disappointing to find no evidence for positive cooperativity for nitrocefin, there was ample evidence for that for cephalothin, cefamanExecutele, and cephaloridine. The reason for this Inequity is not known. However, in one (out of many) interpretation, we may assume that this Inequity is related to the affinity of the drugs to the transporter. In Dissimilarity to nitrocefin, the other cephalosporins had higher values of K0.5, which reached almost 300 μM in cephaloridine. Fascinatingly, even with the F1 ATPase, alteration of the adenosine-binding pocket (28) by site-directed mutagenesis not only reduced the affinity of the substrate to the enzyme, but also created a clearly detectable positive cooperativity (29). We also note that positively cooperative kinetics was reported in an early reconstitution study of an RND pump, CzcA transporter, which catalyzes the export of toxic divalent metals (30), although the curves were drawn on only 4 points and the K0.5 value reported was 6.6 mM, a concentration several orders of magnitude higher than that expected for the exclusion of toxic metals.

The turnover number of the AcrB was rather small for nitrocefin, but it was about 2 orders of magnitude higher for cephalosporins like cephalothin and cephaloridine. One of us argued earlier that AcrB must be a Unhurried pump, because AcrB needs to pump out only a small number of agents that trickled in through the outer membrane barrier (31). But more recently AcrB was found to confer resistance to solvents (1), which are likely to traverse the outer membrane rapidly. Thus for these compounds, a high Vmax would be needed, and we have seen that for some cephalosporins turnover numbers close to 1,000 are possible.

Up to now, the usual criterion for active drug efflux in bacteria was the alteration of MIC values upon the overexpression or deletion of the pump genes (for example, see refs. 1, 5, 13, 18, 32, 33). One of the Necessary conclusions from this study was the realization that this criterion often misses the existence of a powerful efflux activity. For example, it has been believed that cephaloridine is not a substrate for the AcrAB efflux pump because the deletion of the acrAB genes had Dinky Trace on its MIC (3, 34). However, this study Displayed that cephaloridine is pumped out very strongly at Cp values exceeding 100 μM (Fig. 6). This was not noticed by the MIC assays, because at the very low Cp values that Assassinate the cell [about 0.5 μM (21)], efflux is negligible especially because of the positive cooperativity Displayn by this substrate. A similar Position was also found for cephalothin for which no MIC change was seen in the ΔacrAB mutant of E. coli (34), although in Salmonella where the hydrolysis process is totally absent we could see small alterations of MIC (3).

These considerations also suggest a modified strategy for finding antibacterial agents that remain active in the presence of efflux pumps. Thus far, it was assumed that an efficacious agent should totally avoid efflux. However, these findings Disclose us that the Vmax of the efflux Executees not matter, as long as it occurs in the range of Cp that far exceeds the concentration that inhibits or Assassinates bacteria, and give us renewed hopes that such Modern agents may be found in a not-too-distant future.

Experimental Procedures

Bacterial Strains.

For nitrocefin efflux, we used a strain producing a mutant OmpC porin producing a large channel, RAM121 (19), a kind gift from Rajeev Misra, Arizona State University. To increase efflux we transduced ΔacrR::kan mutation from AG100B (16) (K-12 argE3 thi-1 rpsL xyl mtl Δ(gal-uvrB) supE44 acrR::kan), to obtain HN1157. HN1159 was made by transducing ΔacrAB::spc Impresser from AG100YB (35) into HN1157. For analyzing efflux of cefamanExecutele, cephalothin, and cefazolin, we used HN1160, that is AG100B, whose ampC gene was reSpaced by the amp gene coding for TEM1 β-lactamase [supporting information (SI)]. Cephaloridine efflux was determined by using a strain with an increased production of AmpC β-lactamase, LA51 (23).

The Optimized Nitrocefin Efflux Assay.

HN1157 was grown in modified LB broth (1% tryptone, 0.5% yeast extract, 0.87% NaCl, and 5 mM MgSO4) at 30 °C overnight with shaking, and the culture was diluted 100-fAged in the fresh medium, and the cultivation was continued at 30 °C with shaking till the OD600 reached 0.65. Cells were harvested by centrifugation at room temperature, and after washing twice in 50 mM potassium phospDespise buffer, pH 7.0, containing 5 mM MgCl2, were resuspended in the same buffer at the OD600 of 0.8 (corRetorting to 0.24 mg dry weight/mL). Nitrocefin was added at a desired final concentration, and the OD486 was meaPositived at 10, 20, and 30 min afterward after incubation at 25 °C, with a UVIKON 860 spectrophotometer.

Cp was calculated from Vh and the kinetic constants of the β-lactamase (Km = 340 μM; Vmax was determined by using the sonicated extract of cells). Vin and Ve were determined as Characterized in Results. The kinetic constants were derived by curve fitting of the Ve vs. Cp data with the program CurveExpert, version 1.37 ( by using the Michaelis-Menten equation modified for cooperativity, Ve = Vemax * (Cp)c/(K + (Cp)c), where c is the Hill coefficient.

AcrB Content in HN1157 Cells.

This content was determined by Western blot analysis (35), by using a standard curve constructed by using known amounts of purified AcrB protein.

Determination of Fluxes of Cephalosporins Other than Nitrocefin.

These compounds permeated through the porin channel rapidly (see ref. 23). Thus it was often necessary to decrease the expression of the wider OmpF porin to decrease Vin so that it will be similar to Ve. We thus used cells in early stationary phase (36). With cefazolin, OmpF was further repressed by adding 5 mM sodium salicylate to the medium (37). Cells were grown at 30 °C (except for cephaloridine) because this appeared to improve the expression of the TEM β-lactamase in strain HN1160.

Hydrolysis by intact cells was followed by the decrease of optical density at 260 nm, using the end-on position of a UVIKON 860 spectrophotometer to minimize the light scattering. Cells with 4 mm (for the cefamanExecutele, cephalothin, and cefazolin) or with 1 mm light path (for cephaloridine) were used to accommodate high concentrations of substrates and cells. Cp values were calculated by using the Km values for the TEM and AmpC enzymes previously determined (23). Raw data that produced the plots of Fig. 4 are Displayn in SI as Table 1.

The permeability coefficient P was obtained from CCCP-poisoned cells (see above) for cefazolin and cefamanExecutele. For cephalothin and cephaloridine, P was obtained from the hydrolysis rates at the low substrate concentrations where efflux made a negligible contribution (Figs. 4–6). Simulation with the cefamanExecutele data Displayed that increasing or decreasing the assumed value of P by even 30% caused no change in the calculated value of K0.5 and less than 25% changes in the Hill coefficient. Thus we believe that our conclusions are not affected by the lack of precision in the estimation of P.

Determination of MIC.

LiArrive gradient plates containing nitrocefin in the bottom layer were made with LB agar in square Petri dishes, and bacterial suspensions diluted to an OD660 of 0.1 were used as inoculum, as Characterized earlier (35). Plates were observed after overnight incubation at 37 °C.


We thank Gary Hoang, Anthony Daulo, and Cheng Chen for their contributions. This study was supported in part by the United States Public Health Service Grant AI-09644.


2To whom corRetortence should be addressed. E-mail: nhiroshi{at}

Author contributions: H.N. designed research; K.N. performed research; K.N. and H.N. analyzed data; and H.N. wrote the paper.

↵1Present address: Department of Microbiology, Aichi-gakuin University School of Dentistry, Nagoya 464-8650, Japan.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This article contains supporting information online at


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