Synergistic Activity of Repurposed Peptide Drug Glatiramer Acetate with Tobramycin against Cystic Fibrosis Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Ronan A Murphy, Matthew Coates, Sophia Thrane, Akshay Sabnis, James Harrison, Silke Schelenz, Andrew M Edwards, Thomas Vorup-Jensen, Jane C Davies

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Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most common pathogen infecting the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF), causing both acute and chronic infections. Intrinsic and acquired antibiotic resistance, coupled with the physical barriers resulting from desiccated CF sputum, allow P. aeruginosa to colonize and persist in spite of antibiotic treatment. As well as the specific difficulties in eradicating P. aeruginosa from CF lungs, P. aeruginosa is also subject to the wider, global issue of antimicrobial resistance. Glatiramer acetate (GA) is a peptide drug, used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), which has been shown to have moderate antipseudomonal activity. Other antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) have been shown to be antibiotic resistance breakers, potentiating the activities of antibiotics when given in combination, restoring and/or enhancing antibiotic efficacy. Growth, viability, MIC determinations, and synergy analysis showed that GA improved the efficacy of tobramycin (TOB) against reference strains of P. aeruginosa, reducing TOB MICs and synergizing with the aminoglycoside. This was also the case for clinical strains from people with CF. GA significantly reduced the MIC50 of TOB for viable cells from 1.69 mg/L (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.26 to 8.97) to 0.62 mg/L (95% CI, 0.15 to 3.94; P = 0.002) and the MIC90 for viable cells from 7.00 mg/L (95% CI, 1.18 to 26.50) to 2.20 mg/L (95% CI, 0.99 to 15.03; P = 0.001), compared to results with TOB only. Investigation of mechanisms of GA activity showed that GA resulted in significant disruption of outer membranes, depolarization of cytoplasmic membranes, and permeabilization of P. aeruginosa and was the only agent tested (including cationic AMPs) to significantly affect all three mechanisms. IMPORTANCE The antimicrobial resistance crisis urgently requires solutions to the lost efficacy of antibiotics. The repurposing of drugs already in clinical use, with strong safety profiles, as antibiotic adjuvants to restore the efficacy of antibiotics is an important avenue to alleviating the resistance crisis. This research shows that a clinically used drug from outside infection treatment, glatiramer acetate, reduces the concentration of tobramycin required to be effective in treating Pseudomonas aeruginosa, based on analyses of both reference and clinical respiratory isolates from people with cystic fibrosis. The two agents acted synergistically against P. aeruginosa, being more effective combined in vitro than predicted for their combination. As a peptide drug, glatiramer acetate functions similarly to many antimicrobial peptides, interacting with and disrupting the P. aeruginosa cell wall and permeabilizing bacterial cells, thereby allowing tobramycin to work. Our findings demonstrate that glatiramer acetate is a strong candidate for repurposing as an antibiotic resistance breaker of pathogenic P. aeruginosa.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00813-22
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • antibiotic resistance
  • antibiotic resistance breaker
  • antimicrobial peptides
  • cystic fibrosis
  • drug repurposing
  • synergism


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