Influence of outer membrane permeabilization on intrinsic resistance to the hydrophobic biocide triclosan in opportunistic Serratia species

Boyina Kavya, Blake King, Abby S. Rigsbee, Jennifer G. Yang, Wilson Sprinkles, Visha M. Patel, Allison A. McDonald, Sue Katz Amburn, Franklin R. Champlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Triclosan is a hydrophobic antimicrobial agent commonly employed in health care settings. While it exhibits broad-spectrum antibacterial properties, the gram-negative nosocomial opportunists Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Serratia marcescens are atypically refractory. Intrinsic resistance to triclosan in P. aeruginosa is largely due to its outer membrane impermeability properties for hydrophobic and bulky substances. The present study was undertaken to determine the relationship between triclosan and the outer cell envelopes of thirteen strains of ten Serratia species reported to be opportunistic pathogens in humans. General intrinsic resistance to hydrophobic and other outer membrane impermeant compounds was assessed using cultural selection, disk agar diffusion, and macrobroth dilution bioassays. Uptake of the hydrophobic fluorescent probe 1-N-phenylnapthylamine was assessed in four disparate strains of S. marcescens. Batch culture kinetics in the presence of combinations of triclosan and outer membrane permeabilizer compound 48/80 allowed analysis of outer membrane involvement in intrinsic resistance. Aggregate results revealed that individual species ranged in response to hydrophobic and bulky molecules from generally refractory to extremely susceptible. Moreover, susceptivity to triclosan sensitization by chemical disruption of outer membrane exclusionary properties differed markedly among species which exhibited intrinsic resistance to triclosan. These data suggest that disparate opportunistic pathogens within the genus Serratia differ phenotypically regarding the degree to which outer membrane exclusion contributes to intrinsic resistance for impermeant molecules in general, and triclosan specifically. Ancillary resistance mechanisms appear to contribute in some species and may involve constitutive multi-drug efflux systems. Importance A paucity of knowledge exists regarding the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which opportunistically pathogenic members of the genus Serratia are able to infect immunocompromised and otherwise susceptible individuals, and then evade chemotherapy. This is especially true for species other than Serratia marcescens and Serratia liquefaciens, although much remains to be learned with regard to the nature of key virulence factors and infection mechanisms which allow for the typically nosocomial acquisition of even these species. The research described in the present study will provide a better understanding of the contribution of outer cell envelope permeability properties to the pathogenicity of these opportunistic species in an ever-increasing susceptible patient population. It is our hope that greater knowledge of the basic biology of these organisms will contribute to the mitigation of suffering they cause in patients with underlying diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15385
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Hydrophobic molecules
  • Intrinsic resistance
  • Nosocomial opportunists
  • Outer membrane
  • Serratia species
  • Triclosan


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