Persisters are a subpopulation of normal bacterial cells that show tolerance to conventional antibiotics. Persister cells are responsible for recalcitrant chronic infections and new antibiotics effective against persisters would be a major development in the treatment of these infections. Using the reporter dye SYTOX Green that only stains cells with permeabilized membranes, we developed a fluorescence-based screening assay in a 384-well format for identifying compounds that can kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) persisters. The assay proved robust and suitable for high throughput screening (Z-factor: >0.7). In screening a library of hits from a previous screen, which identified compounds that had the ability to block killing of the nematode Caenorhabditis by MRSA, we discovered that the low molecular weight compound NH125, a bacterial histidine kinase inhibitor, kills MRSA persisters by causing cell membrane permeabilization, and that 5 μg/mL of the compound can kill all cells to the limit of detection in a 108 CFU/mL culture of MRSA persisters within 3h. Furthermore, NH125 disrupts 50% of established MRSA biofilms at 20 μg/mL and completely eradicates biofilms at 160 μg/mL. Our results suggest that the SYTOX Green screening assay is suitable for large-scale projects to identify small molecules effective against MRSA persisters and should be easily adaptable to a broad range of pathogens that form persisters. Since NH125 has strong bactericidal properties against MRSA persisters and high selectivity to bacteria, we believe NH125 is a good anti-MRSA candidate drug that should be further evaluated.
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© 2015 Kim et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.