The unusual mode of action of the polyketide glycoside antibiotic cervimycin C.

Hoffmann A, Steffens U, Maček B, Franz-Wachtel M, Nieselt K, Harbig TA, Scherlach K, Hertweck C, Sahl HG, Bierbaum G (2024) The unusual mode of action of the polyketide glycoside antibiotic cervimycin C. mSphere 9(5), e0076423.


Cervimycins A-D are bis-glycosylated polyketide antibiotics produced by Streptomyces tendae HKI 0179 with bactericidal activity against Gram-positive bacteria. In this study, cervimycin C (CmC) treatment caused a spaghetti-like phenotype in Bacillus subtilis 168, with elongated curved cells, which stayed joined after cell division, and exhibited a chromosome segregation defect, resulting in ghost cells without DNA. Electron microscopy of CmC-treated Staphylococcus aureus (3 × MIC) revealed swollen cells, misshapen septa, cell wall thickening, and a rough cell wall surface. Incorporation tests in B. subtilis indicated an effect on DNA biosynthesis at high cervimycin concentrations. Indeed, artificial downregulation of the DNA gyrase subunit B gene (gyrB) increased the activity of cervimycin in agar diffusion tests, and, in high concentrations (starting at 62.5 × MIC), the antibiotic inhibited S. aureus DNA gyrase supercoiling activity in vitro. To obtain a more global view on the mode of action of CmC, transcriptomics and proteomics of cervimycin treated versus untreated S. aureus cells were performed. Interestingly, 3 × MIC of cervimycin did not induce characteristic responses, which would indicate disturbance of the DNA gyrase activity in vivo. Instead, cervimycin induced the expression of the CtsR/HrcA heat shock operon and the expression of autolysins, exhibiting similarity to the ribosome-targeting antibiotic gentamicin. In summary, we identified the DNA gyrase as a target, but at low concentrations, electron microscopy and omics data revealed a more complex mode of action of cervimycin, which comprised induction of the heat shock response, indicating protein stress in the cell.IMPORTANCEAntibiotic resistance of Gram-positive bacteria is an emerging problem in modern medicine, and new antibiotics with novel modes of action are urgently needed. Secondary metabolites from Streptomyces species are an important source of antibiotics, like the cervimycin complex produced by Streptomyces tendae HKI 0179. The phenotypic response of Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus toward cervimycin C indicated a chromosome segregation and septum formation defect. This effect was at first attributed to an interaction between cervimycin C and the DNA gyrase. However, omics data of cervimycin treated versus untreated S. aureus cells indicated a different mode of action, because the stress response did not include the SOS response but resembled the response toward antibiotics that induce mistranslation or premature chain termination and cause protein stress. In summary, these results point toward a possibly novel mechanism that generates protein stress in the cells and subsequently leads to defects in cell and chromosome segregation.


Christian Hertweck
Kirstin Scherlach


doi: 10.1128/msphere.00764-23

PMID: 38722162