A physiological basis for nonheritable antibiotic resistance

Mauricio H. Pontes, Eduardo A. Groisman

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Antibiotics constitute one of the cornerstones of modern medicine. However, individuals may succumb to a bacterial infection if a pathogen survives ex-posure to antibiotics. The ability of bacteria to survive bactericidal antibiotics results from genetic changes in the preexisting bacterial genome, from the acquisition of genes from other organisms, and from nonheritable phenomena that give rise to antibiotic tolerance. Nonheritable antibiotic tolerance can be exhibited by a large frac-tion of the bacterial population or by a small subpopulation referred to as persisters. Nonheritable resistance to antibiotics has been ascribed to the activity of toxins that are part of toxin-antitoxin modules, to the universal energy currency ATP, and to the signaling molecule guanosine (penta) tetraphosphate. However, these molecules are dispensable for nonheritable resistance to antibiotics in many organisms. By con-trast, nutrient limitation, treatment with bacteriostatic antibiotics, or expression of genes that slow bacterial growth invariably promote nonheritable resistance. We posit that antibiotic persistence results from conditions promoting feedback inhibition among core cellular processes, resulting phenotypically in a slowdown or halt in bacterial growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00817-20
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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