Cellular impermeability and uptake of biocides and antibiotics in Gram-positive bacteria and mycobacteria

P.A. Lambert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gram-positive bacteria possess a permeable cell wall that usually does not restrict the penetration of antimicrobials. However, resistance due to restricted penetration can occur, as illustrated by vancomycin-intermediate resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains (VISA) which produce a markedly thickened cell wall. Alterations in these strains include increased amounts of nonamidated glutamine residues in the peptidoglycan and it is suggested that the resistance mechanism involves 'affinity trapping' of vancomycin in the thickened cell wall. VISA strains have reduced doubling times, lower sensitivity to lysostaphin and reduced autolytic activity, which may reflect changes in the D-alanyl ester content of the wall and membrane teichoic acids. Mycobacterial cell walls have a high lipid content, which is assumed to act as a major barrier to the penetration of antimicrobial agents. Relatively hydrophobic antibiotics such as rifampicin and fluoroquinolones may be able to cross the cell wall by diffusion through the hydrophobic bilayer composed of long chain length mycolic acids and glycolipids. Hydrophilic antibiotics and nutrients cannot diffuse across this layer and are thought to use porin channels which have been reported in many species of mycobacteria. The occurrence of porins in a lipid bilayer supports the view that the mycobacterial wall has an outer membrane analogous to that of gram-negative bacteria. However, mycobacterial porins are much less abundant than in the gram-negative outer membrane and allow only low rates of uptake for small hydrophilic nutrients and antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46 S-54 S
Number of pages10
JournalSociety for Applied Microbiology. Symposium series
Issue numberS1
Early online date9 May 2002
Publication statusPublished - May 2002


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