mBio. 2021 Oct 12:e0180121. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01801-21. Online ahead of print.
Rates of antibiotic and multidrug resistance are rapidly rising, leaving fewer options for successful treatment of bacterial infections. In addition to acquiring genetic resistance, many pathogens form persister cells, form biofilms, and/or cause intracellular infections that enable bacteria to withstand antibiotic treatment and serve as a source of recurring infections. JD1 is a small molecule previously shown to kill Gram-negative bacteria under conditions where the outer membrane and/or efflux pumps are disrupted. We show here that JD1 rapidly disrupts membrane potential and kills Gram-positive bacteria. Further investigation revealed that treatment with JD1 disrupts membrane barrier function and causes aberrant membranous structures to form. Additionally, exposure to JD1 reduced the number of Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis viable persister cells within broth culture by up to 1,000-fold and reduced the matrix and cell volume of biofilms that had been established for 24 h. Finally, we show that JD1 reduced the number of recoverable methicillin-resistant S. aureus organisms from infected cells. These observations indicate that JD1 inhibits staphylococcal cells in difficult-to-treat growth stages as well as, or better than, current clinical antibiotics. Thus, JD1 shows the importance of testing compounds under conditions that are relevant to infection, demonstrates the utility that membrane-targeting compounds have against multidrug-resistant bacteria, and indicates that small molecules that target bacterial cell membranes may serve as potent broad-spectrum antibacterials. IMPORTANCE Untreatable bacterial infections are a critical public health care issue. In addition to increasing antibiotic resistance, bacteria that are in slow-growing or nongrowing states, or that live inside mammalian cells, are typically insensitive to clinical antibiotics and therefore difficult to eradicate. Bacterial cell membranes have been proposed as potential novel antibiotic targets that may be vulnerable in these difficult to treat cell types because cell membranes are always present and performing essential functions. The small molecule JD1 was previously shown to disrupt Gram-negative bacterial cell membranes. Here, we show that it also disrupts the cell membrane of Gram-positive bacteria and reduces viable bacteria within persister populations, biofilms, and mammalian cells. These observations demonstrate the importance of testing novel compounds under infection-relevant conditions, because their potency against rapidly growing cells may not reveal their full potential.