Molecular Basis of Rhodomyrtone Resistance in Staphylococcus aureus

Li Huang, Miki Matsuo, Carlos Calderón, Sook Ha Fan, Aparna Viswanathan Ammanath, Xiaoqing Fu, Ningna Li, Arif Luqman, Marvin Ullrich, Florian Herrmann, Martin Maier, Anchun Cheng*, Fajun Zhang, Filipp Oesterhelt, Michael Lämmerhofer, Friedrich Götz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Rhodomyrtone (Rom) is a plant-derived broad-spectrum antibiotic active against many Gram-positive pathogens. A single point mutation in the regulatory farR gene (farR*) confers resistance to Rom in Staphylococcus aureus (RomR). The mutation in farR* alters the activity of the regulator, FarR*, in such a way that not only its own gene, farR*, but also the divergently transcribed farE gene and genes controlled by the global regulator, agr, are highly upregulated. Here, we show that mainly the upregulation of the fatty acid efflux pump FarE causes the RomR phenotype, as farE deletion in either the parent or the RomR strain (RomR DfarE) yielded hypersensitivity to Rom. Comparative lipidome analysis of the supernatant (exolipidomics) and the pellet fraction revealed that the RomR strain excreted about 10 times more phospholipids (PGs) than the parent strain or the DfarE mutants. Since the PG content in the supernatant (2,244 ng/optical density [OD]) was more than 100-fold higher than that of fatty acids (FA), we assumed that PG interacts with Rom, thereby abrogating its antimicrobial activity. Indeed, by static and dynamic light scattering (SLS and DLS) and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) analyses, we could demonstrate that both PG and Rom were vesicular and reacted with each other in milliseconds to form a 1:1.49 [Rom-PG(32:0), where PG(32:0) is PG with C32:0 lipids] complex. The binding is entropically driven and hence hydrophobic and of low specificity in nature. Our results indicate that the cytoplasmic membrane is the actual target of Rom, which is also in agreement with Rom’s induced rapid collapse of the membrane potential and decreased membrane integrity. IMPORTANCE Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem, and alternative antibiotics are urgently needed. Rhodomyrtone (Rom), an antimicrobial compound originally isolated from Rhodomyrtus tomentosa, is active against multidrug-resistant Gram-positive pathogens. However, Rom-resistant (RomR) mutants occur with low frequency. In this study, we unraveled the underlying resistance mechanism, which is based on a point mutation in the farR regulator gene, causing overexpression of FarE, which most likely acts as a phospholipid (PG) efflux pump, as large amounts of PG were found in the supernatant and the pellet fraction. We show that PG can bind to Rom, thereby abrogating its antimicrobial activity. The direct interaction of Rom with PG suggests that Rom’s actual target is the cytoplasmic membrane. Antibiotics that interact with PG are rare. Since Rom can be chemically synthesized, it serves as a lead compound for synthesis of improved variants.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03833
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • FarE
  • FarR
  • FarR
  • Isothermal titration calorimetry
  • Lipidomic analysis
  • P-lipids
  • Resistance mechanism
  • Rhodomyrtone
  • Rom
  • Staphylococcus


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