Vancomycin functions by binding to lipid II, the penultimate bacterial cell wall building block used by both Gram-positive and Gram-negative species. However, vancomycin is generally only able to exert its antimicrobial effect against Gram-positive strains as it cannot pass the outer membrane (OM) of Gram-negative bacteria. To address this challenge, we here describe efforts to conjugate vancomycin to the OM disrupting polymyxin E nonapeptide (PMEN) to yield the hybrid “vancomyxins”. In designing these hybrid antibiotics, different spacers and conjugation sites were explored for connecting vancomycin and PMEN. The vancomyxins show improved activity against Gram-negative strains compared with the activity of vancomycin or vancomycin supplemented with PMEN separately. In addition, the vancomyxins maintain the antimicrobial effect of vancomycin against Gram-positive strains and, in some cases, show enhanced activity against vancomycin-resistant strains. The hybrid antibiotics described here have reduced nephrotoxicity when compared with clinically used polymyxin antibiotics. This study demonstrates that covalent conjugation to an OM disruptor contributes to sensitizing Gram-negative strains to vancomycin while retaining anti-Gram-positive activity.
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