Uncovering key metabolic determinants of the drug interactions between trimethoprim and erythromycin in Escherichia coli

Qin Qi, S. Andreas Angermayr, Tobias Bollenbach*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Understanding interactions between antibiotics used in combination is an important theme in microbiology. Using the interactions between the antifolate drug trimethoprim and the ribosome-targeting antibiotic erythromycin in Escherichia coli as a model, we applied a transcriptomic approach for dissecting interactions between two antibiotics with different modes of action. When trimethoprim and erythromycin were combined, the transcriptional response of genes from the sulfate reduction pathway deviated from the dominant effect of trimethoprim on the transcriptome. We successfully altered the drug interaction from additivity to suppression by increasing the sulfate level in the growth environment and identified sulfate reduction as an important metabolic determinant that shapes the interaction between the two drugs. Our work highlights the potential of using prioritization of gene expression patterns as a tool for identifying key metabolic determinants that shape drug-drug interactions. We further demonstrated that the sigma factor-binding protein gene crl shapes the interactions between the two antibiotics, which provides a rare example of how naturally occurring variations between strains of the same bacterial species can sometimes generate very different drug interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number760017
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • transcriptomics
  • antibiotic interactions
  • sulfate reduction
  • trimethoprim (TMP)
  • erythromycin (ERY)
  • E. coli


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