The evolution of Bordetella pertussis has selected for mutations of acr that lead to sensitivity to hydrophobic molecules and fatty acids.

Iain MacArthur, Thomas Belcher, Jerry King, Vasantha Ramasamy, Munirah Alhammadi, Andrew Preston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Whooping cough, or pertussis, is resurgent in numerous countries worldwide. This has renewed interest in Bordetella pertussis biology and vaccinology. The in vitro growth of B. pertussis has been a source of difficulty, both for the study of the organism and the production of pertussis vaccines. It is inhibited by fatty acids and other hydrophobic molecules. The AcrAB efflux system is present in many different bacteria and in combination with an outer membrane factor exports acriflavine and other small hydrophobic molecules from the cell. Here, we identify that the speciation of B. pertussis has selected for an Acr system that is naturally mutated and displays reduced activity compared to B. bronchiseptica, in which the system appears intact. Replacement of the B. pertussis locus with that of B. bronchiseptica conferred higher levels of resistance to growth inhibition by acriflavine and fatty acids. In addition, we identified that the transcription of the locus is repressed by a LysR-type transcriptional regulator. Palmitate de-represses the expression of the acr locus, dependent on the LysR regulator, strongly suggesting that it is a transcriptional repressor that is regulated by palmitate. It is intriguing that the speciation of B. pertussis has selected for a reduction in activity of the Acr efflux system that typically is regarded as protective to bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-612
Number of pages10
JournalEmerging Microbes and Infections
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2019


  • Bordetella pertussis
  • acr
  • evolution
  • growth inhibition
  • palmitate
  • repressor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology

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