Daptomycin is a last-resort antibiotic for the treatment of invasive diseases caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. However, despite potent activity in vitro,daptomycin fails to resolve up to 30% of cases of staphylococcal bacteraemia, suggesting that the host environment reduces bacterial susceptibility to the antibiotic. Using human serum as a model of bacteraemia, we demonstrated that the host environment induced daptomycin tolerance via activation of the GraRS two-component system. Testing of various antimicrobial peptides present in serum revealed that the human cathelicidin LL-37 was able to bind GraS, induce GraRS signalling and confer daptomycin tolerance. Activation of GraRS by serum led to daptomycin tolerance via changes in the staphylococcal cell envelope. For example, GraRS-dependent increases in positive surface charge and peptidoglycan content occurred in serum, leading to reduced daptomycin binding. Additionally, incubation in serum led to a Cls2-dependent increase in the cardiolipin content of the membrane which contributed to daptomycin tolerance. Finally, inhibition of both peptidoglycan and cardiolipin synthesis together completely abolished acquisition of daptomycin tolerance in serum, demonstrating that these processes fully explain the tolerance phenotype. In summary, host LL-37 activates staphylococcal GraRS signalling, causing changes in the cell surface which confer daptomycin tolerance. This demonstrates how host defences can compromise antibiotic efficacy, and also provides a rationale for combination therapies to prevent the development of daptomycin tolerance and reduce rates of treatment failure.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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