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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Ethidium bromide transport across Mycobacterium smegmatis cell-wall: correlation with antibiotic resistance

Liliana Rodrigues12, Jorge Ramos1, Isabel Couto13, Leonard Amaral124 and Miguel Viveiros14*

Author Affiliations

1 Unit of Mycobacteriology, Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Rua da Junqueira 100, 1349-008 Lisboa, Portugal

2 UPMM, Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Rua da Junqueira 100, 1349-008 Lisboa, Portugal

3 Centro de Recursos Microbiológicos (CREM), Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, UNL, 2829-516 Caparica, Portugal

4 Cost Action BM0701 (ATENS

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:35  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-35

Published: 18 February 2011



Active efflux systems and reduced cell-wall permeability are considered to be the main causes of mycobacterial intrinsic resistance to many antimicrobials. In this study, we have compared the Mycobacterium smegmatis wild-type strain mc2155 with knockout mutants for porins MspA (the main porin of M. smegmatis) and MspC, the efflux pump LfrA (the main efflux pump system of M. smegmatis) and its repressor LfrR for their ability to transport ethidium bromide (EtBr) on a real-time basis. This information was then correlated with minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of several antibiotics in the presence or absence of the efflux inhibitors chlorpromazine, thioridazine and verapamil.


In the absence of porins MspA and MspC, accumulation of ethidium bromide decreased and the cells became more resistant to several antibiotics, whereas the knockout mutant for the LfrA pump showed increased accumulation of EtBr and increased susceptibility to EtBr, rifampicin, ethambutol and ciprofloxacin. Moreover, the efflux inhibitors caused a reduction of the MICs of streptomycin, rifampicin, amikacin, ciprofloxacin, clarithromycin and erythromycin in most of the strains tested.


The methodology used in this study demonstrated that porin MspA plays an important role in the influx of quaternary ammonium compounds and antibiotics and that efflux via the LfrA pump is involved in low-level resistance to several antimicrobial drugs in M. smegmatis. The results obtained with this non-pathogenic mycobacterium will be used in future studies as a model for the evaluation of the activity of the same efflux inhibitors on the susceptibility of multidrug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to isoniazid and rifampicin.