Fe-S Cluster Biosynthesis Controls Uptake of Aminoglycosides in a ROS-Less Death Pathway

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Science  28 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6140, pp. 1583-1587
DOI: 10.1126/science.1238328

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Unreactive Death

A controversial proposal that all bactericidal antibiotics kill by reactive oxygen species (ROS) and not by their primary cell target has recently attracted high-profile refutations. The ROS-death pathway implicated overstimulation of the electron transport in respiratory chains; a malfunction that leads to ROS releasing Fe from Fe-S clusters and causing cell death via Fenton chemistry. Ezraty et al. (p. 1583) show that electron transport chains and Fe-S clusters are key to killing by aminoglycoside antibiotics but not for the reasons envisioned in the ROS theory. Fe-S clusters are essential for killing because they mature the respiratory chains that produce the necessary proton motive force for the energized uptake of aminoglycosides. Consequently, iron chelators protect against aminoglycosides, not because they scavenge the iron from Fenton chemistry, but because they block aminoglycoside uptake.


All bactericidal antibiotics were recently proposed to kill by inducing reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, causing destabilization of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters and generating Fenton chemistry. We find that the ROS response is dispensable upon treatment with bactericidal antibiotics. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Fe-S clusters are required for killing only by aminoglycosides. In contrast to cells, using the major Fe-S cluster biosynthesis machinery, ISC, cells using the alternative machinery, SUF, cannot efficiently mature respiratory complexes I and II, resulting in impendence of the proton motive force (PMF), which is required for bactericidal aminoglycoside uptake. Similarly, during iron limitation, cells become intrinsically resistant to aminoglycosides by switching from ISC to SUF and down-regulating both respiratory complexes. We conclude that Fe-S proteins promote aminoglycoside killing by enabling their uptake.

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