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Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical

Print version ISSN 0037-8682

Rev. Soc. Bras. Med. Trop. vol.46 no.3 Uberaba May/June 2013

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0037-8682-0012-2013 

Major Articles

In vitro activity of antimicrobial combinations against multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Denissani Aparecida Ferrari dos Santos Lima[1] 

Margarida Maria Passeri do Nascimento[1] 

Lúcia Helena Vitali[1] 

Roberto Martinez[1] 

[1]Departamento de Clínica Médica, Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP.

ABSTRACT

Introduction

Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates related to nosocomial infections are often resistant to multiple antibacterial agents. In this study, antimicrobial combinations were evaluated to detect in vitro synergy against clinical isolates of P. aeruginosa.

Methods

Four clinical P. aeruginosa isolates were selected at random among other isolates from inpatients treated at the public University hospital in Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil. Two isolates were susceptible to imipenem (IPM-S) and several other antimicrobials, while the other two isolates were imipenem and multidrug resistant (IPM-R). The checkerboard method was used to assess the interactions between antimicrobials.

Results

Combinations of imipenem or other anti-Pseudomonas drugs with complementary antibiotics, such as aminoglycosides, fosfomycin and rifampin, reached synergy rates of 20.8%, 50%, 62.5% and 50% for the two IPM-S and two IPM-R Pseudomonas isolates, respectively. Imipenem, piperacillin-tazobactam and ceftazidime yielded a greater synergy rate than cefepime or ciprofloxacin. Synergist combinations were more commonly observed when the complementary drug was tobramycin (65%) or fosfomycin (57%).

Conclusions

Some antibacterial combinations led to significant reductions of the minimum inhibitory concentrations of both drugs, suggesting that they could be clinically applied to control infections caused by multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa.

Key words: Pseudomonas aeruginosa ; Antimicrobial synergy; Beta-lactam agents; Fosfomycin; Tobramycin; Rifampin

INTRODUCTION

A universal tendency to bacterial resistance to antimicrobials has been observed since the beginning of antibiotic therapy. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a microorganism that is particularly difficult to control because it causes opportunistic and nosocomial infections, it is non-susceptible to several antimicrobials and it develops progressive resistance to new drugs1. Over the last few years, carbapenemic drugs have become important therapeutic resources for the control of P. aeruginosa infections. However, growing resistance to imipenem and other carbapenems has been observed, and multidrug-resistance has become more common2,3.

A therapeutic strategy against P. aeruginosa is the use of antimicrobial combinations to delay the selection of resistant bacterial clones and to obtain a synergistic antibacterial action4. The combination of beta-lactam antibiotics and aminoglycosides has been recommended for the treatment of infected patients. Antimicrobials are also combined as a method to recover the efficacy of drugs to which P. aeruginosa has become resistant. When the interaction is synergistic, reductions of the minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of both antimicrobials occur, eventually rendering the microorganism susceptible to the levels of antimicrobials found in the blood and tissues5.

This investigation was motivated by the high frequency of nosocomial infections caused by multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa in a Brazilian emergency and trauma care hospital. The objective was to evaluate the in vitro susceptibility of P. aeruginosa by testing antimicrobials that are known to combat P. aeruginosa, combined with other potentially active drugs, particularly fosfomycin and rifampin.

METHODS

Pseudomonas aeruginosa was isolated from the blood (n=3) and urine (n=1) of patients who were admitted to the Emergency Unit of the University Hospital, Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto, University of São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil. The isolates were selected at random among other clinical isolates and were identified by the automated microbiology system Vitek (Biomérieux, Jacarepaguá, Brazil). Two isolates (8S and 34S) were susceptible to imipenem and to several other antimicrobials, while the other two isolates (46R and 72R) were imipenem and multidrug resistant. The four strains were subcultured in brain heart infusion broth (Oxoid, Hampshire, England), plated on Müeller Hinton agar (Oxoid, Hampshire, England) and then stored at -70°C in soy trypticase broth with 15% glycerol. Aliquots for the tests were removed from this stock, and bacterial growth was recovered by subculture in brain heart infusion broth for 24 hours.

Antimicrobial drugs

Imipenem, gentamicin, fosfomycin and polymyxin B powder were obtained from Sigma, USA(St. Louis, MO, USA) and were diluted in sterile water for the preparation of the stock solutions. Stock solutions of other drugs were prepared by dilution in sterilized water from the following commercially available medications: ceftazidime (Kefadin, ABL, São Paulo, Brazil), piperacillin-tazobactam (Taz-Pen, Cellofarm, Brazil), cefepime (ABL, São Paulo, Brazil), tobramycin (Tobramina, ABL, São Paulo, Brazil), ciprofloxacin (Ciprobacter/Isofarma, Ceará, Brazil) and rifampin (Rifaldin/Sanofi-Aventis, Paris, France). The stock solutions were stored at -70°C, except for imipenem, which was prepared immediately before use. The various drug concentrations were obtained by successive two-fold dilutions in sterile water. The antimicrobial solutions were validated by determination of the respective MICs against P. aeruginosa ATCC 27853.

Broth microdilution susceptibility test

The method standardized by the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI)6 was used to determine the MICs of the antimicrobials for the selected clinical isolates and for P. aeruginosa ATCC 27853.

Briefly, Müeller Hinton broth that was adjusted for cations (Oxoid, Hampshire, England) was added to the wells of microtiter plates (TPP, Zellkultur, Trasadingen, Switzerland). Solutions with serial dilutions of antimicrobial concentrations were added at variable ranges according to the drug and isolate tested. Finally, P. aeruginosa from a 24-hour subculture in Müeller Hinton broth (Oxoid) was adjusted for a turbidity equivalent to 0.5 on the McFarland scale and then diluted to obtain a final inoculum of 2 x 105 colony-forming units (CFU)/mL. The plates were covered with plastic film, and after 24 hours of incubation at 35°C, the absorbance of each well of the microtiter plate was measured with a microplate reader that was adjusted for a wavelength of 490nm.

The criterion used for MIC determination was the lowest antimicrobial concentration with absorbance corresponding to ≤ 20% of the mean absorbance of the control bacterial growth wells (without the addition of the antimicrobial). CLSI-determined breakpoints7 were used to evaluate the bacterial susceptibility to antimicrobials, with the exception of fosfomycin. Susceptibility to this drug was analyzed according to the European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST) criterion for Enterobacteriaceae8.

Susceptibility test to combined drugs

The checkerboard method9 was used to assess the eventual synergy between antimicrobials against the two imipenem-susceptible and the two multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa isolates. Each drug combination was evaluated in duplicate with each bacterial isolate. The MIC of each separate drug was determined on different sides of the same plate. Wells were used for positive controls (only bacterial inoculum and Müeller Hinton broth) and for negative controls (only combined and separate antimicrobials and Müeller Hinton broth). The combined drugs were tested at different concentrations inside the microplate. A Pseudomonas aeruginosa subculture in Müller Hinton broth was adjusted to obtain a final inoculum of 2 x 105 CFU/mL in the well. The plates were covered and incubated at 35°C for 24 hours, and the absorbance of each well was then measured with a microplate reader adjusted for a wavelength of 490 nm. The MIC of the separate or combined antimicrobials was defined as the lowest concentration of the drugs with an absorbance that was ≤ 20% of the mean absorbance of the bacterial growth in the control wells.

Analysis of antimicrobial interaction

Interaction was analyzed separately for each antimicrobial combination (drugs A and B) and bacterial isolate. The fractional inhibitory concentration of drug A (FIC[A]) was calculated as the following ratio: MIC obtained with drug A combined with the second drug/MIC of drug A alone. FIC[B] was obtained using a similar calculation. The FIC(A) + FIC(B) sum resulted in the FIC index (FICI), representative of the interaction of the two antimicrobials. The following criteria were adopted when the MIC value exceeded the standardized range of drug concentrations: 1) for an MIC above the range limit, the FIC was calculated with the next highest drug concentration, estimated by successive two-fold dilutions; and 2) when the MIC was equal to or below the lowest drug concentration evaluated, this value was used to calculate the FIC. The following criteria of interpretation were adopted: 1) FICI ≤ 0.5 indicates synergy between the two antimicrobials; 2) FICI > 0.5 and ≤ 4.0 indicates indifference; and 3) FICI >4 indicates antagonism9. The lowest FICI value obtained in the checkerboard test was considered to be representative of the interaction of the two antimicrobials against the respective P. aeruginosa isolate, regardless of the concentrations of the two drugs.

Statistical analysis

The chi-square test was used to analyze the differences in the synergy rates obtained between the bacterial strains and the antimicrobials tested, with the level of significance set at 0.05.

RESULTS

The two imipenem-susceptible strains (8S and 34S) exhibited susceptibility to other anti-Pseudomonas drugs but were resistant to fosfomycin and rifampin. The two imipenem-resistant isolates (46R and 72R) were also resistant to all antimicrobials evaluated (the MIC of the 46R strain was near the breakpoint with respect to ceftazidime and piperacillin-tazobactam). The four P. aeruginosa isolates were all susceptible to polymyxin B (MIC= 1 to 2µg/mL).

The FICI for the various drug combinations indicated synergic or indifferent activity, with no antagonism being observed. The MIC value of an antimicrobial generally decreased when a second drug was present in subinhibitory concentrations, but in general, the MIC reductions were discrete. For the synergic antimicrobial combinations, the initial and the lowest MIC values obtained in the presence of another drug acting jointly are listed in Table 1 (imipenem-susceptible isolates) and Table 2 (imipenem-resistant isolates). Some drug combinations led to a great MIC reduction, such that the new MIC of both drugs was reduced below the respective breakpoint. Table 3 shows that there was synergy in 46% of the combinations of all drugs for the four isolates tested. Tobramycin (65%) and fosfomycin (57%) were more effective as the second drug of the combinations than gentamicin (25%) and rifampin (36%) in terms of synergistic action against P. aeruginosa. Synergy with these drugs was obtained more frequently when imipenem, piperacillin-tazobactam and ceftazidime were used as the first anti-Pseudomonas drugs (p < 0.05). The rate of synergy obtained with all antimicrobial combinations for isolates 8S, 34S, 46R and 72R reached 20.8% (5/24), 50% (12/24), 62.5% (15/24) and 50% (12/24), respectively (p < 0.05).

TABLE 1 - In vitro synergic combinations between pairs of antimicrobials against two imipenem-susceptible Pseudomonas aeruginosa-minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of the isolate or combined drugs and fractional inhibitory concentration index (FICI). 

Strain MIC (µg/mL)
drugs (A/B) alone (A/B) combined (A/B) FICI
8S IPM/TOB 2/0.5 0.5/0.13 0.500
8S IPM/FOSF 1/512 ≤0.13/16 0.161
8S IPM/RIF 2/32 0.5/≤4 0.375
8S PIP-T/TOB 4/0.5 0.5/≤0.13 0.375
8S PIP-T/FOSF 4/512 1/16 0.281
34S IPM/TOB 2/1 0.5/0.25 0.500
34S IPM/FOSF 1/512 0.25/64 0.375
34S IPM/RIF 2/32 0.5/8 0.500
34S PIP-T/GEN 16/2 2/≤0.5 0.375
34S PIP-T/TOB 16/1 ≤0.13/≤0.06 0.068
34S PIP-T/FOSF 8/512 ≤0.13/64 0.141
34S CEFTA/GEN 4/2 0.25/0.5 0.313
34S CEFTA/TOB 4/2 1/≤0.5 0.500
34S CEFTA/FOSF 8/>512 1/32 0.156
34S CEFTA/RIF 8/64 1/≤8 0.250
34S CIP/FOSF 0.25/>512 0.06/16 0.256
34S TOB/RIF 2/64 0.5/16 0.500

IPM: imipenem; PIP-T: piperacillin-tazobactam; CEFTA: ceftazidime; TOB: tobramycin; GEN: gentamicin; CIP: ciprofloxacin; FOSF: fosfomycin; RIF: rifampin.

TABLE 2 - In vitro synergic combinations between pairs of antimicrobials against two imipenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa-minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of the isolate or combined drugs and fractional inhibitory concentration index (FICI). 

Strain MIC (µg/mL)
dugs (A/B) alone (A/B) combined (A/B) FICI
46R IPM/TOB 32/>256 2/64 0.188
46R IMP/FOSF 32/256 4/32 0.250
46R PIP-T/GEN 64/>512 16/256 0.500
46R PIP-T/TOB 128/256 4/≤8 0.063
46R PIP-T/FOSF 128/256 16/≤8 0.156
46R PIP-T/RIF 64/16 16/≤4 0.500
46R CEFTA/TOB 8/256 2/32 0.375
46R CEFTA/FOSF 16/512 4/64 0.375
46R CEFTA/RIF 16/32 4/≤8 0.500
46R CPM/GEN >512/512 32/≤8 0.047
46R CPM/TOB >512/256 ≤1/≤8 0.033
46R CPM/FOSF 256/512 ≤1/16 0.035
46R CPM/RIF >512/32 32/≤4 0.156
46R TOB/FOSF 512/>256 128/32 0.313
46R TOB/RIF 512/32 16/≤4 0.156
72R IPM/GEN 512/128 2/8 0.066
72R IPM/FOSF >512/128 256/32 0.500
72R IPM/RIF 512/32 128/≤4 0.375
72R PIP-T/TOB >512/256 64/32 0.188
72R PIP-T/FOSF >512/256 4/64 0.254
72R CEFTA/TOB >512/>256 128/32 0.188
72R CEFTA/FOSF >256/512 128/128 0.500
72R CPM/TOB 512/256 64/32 0.250
72R CIP/TOB 16/256 4/16 0.313
72R CIP/FOSF 16/256 2/16 0.188
72R TOB/FOSF >512/256 16/32 0.141
72R TOB/RIF 512/32 8/≤4 0.141

IPM: imipenem; PIP-T: piperacillin-tazobactam; CEFTA: ceftazidime; TOB: tobramycin; GEN: gentamicin; CIP: ciprofloxacin; FOSF: fosfomycin; RIF: rifampin.

TABLE 3 - In vitro synergistic combinations of antimicrobials against four strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Drug B Number of strains with synergy Drug A Synergistic/all tests n (%)
IPM PIP-T CEFTA CPM CIP GEN TOB
GEN 1 2 1 1 0 5/20 25.0
TOB 3 4 3 2 1 13/20 65.0
FOSF 4 4 3 1 2 0 2 16/28 57.0
RIF 3 1 2 1 0 0 3 10/28 36.0
Synergistic/all tests n (%) 11/16 (69.0) 11/16 (69.0) 9/16 (56.0) 5/16 (31.0) 3/16 (19.0) 0/8 (0.0) 5/8 (63.0) 44/96 46.0

IPM: imipenem; PIP-T: piperacillin/tazobactam; CEFTA: ceftazidime; CPM: cefepime; GEN: gentamicin; TOB: tobramycin; FOSF: fosfomycin; RIF: rifampin; CIP: ciprofloxacin. p<0.05

DISCUSSION

This study revealed that various antimicrobial combinations could act synergistically in vitro against multidrug-resistant Brazilian P. aeruginosa isolates. Polymyxins and fosfomycin are old antibiotics that have been retrieved in an attempt to control nosocomial infections caused by this microorganism10−11−12, but isolates with high MICs for these drugs have already been detected1−13−14. The increasing number of infections related to multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa in different areas of the world4−15−16 has stimulated the investigation of the synergy of antimicrobial combinations. The checkerboard method is widely employed for this purpose and was modified in this study to measure the growth in microplates as absorbance units. The results obtained with this instrumental technique show a good correlation with the visual reading and provide a better, more objective definition of the intermediate zone of growth and therefore, more precise MIC determinations for combined drugs.

The overall rate of synergy observed in this study was 46%. The combinations of imipenem, piperacillin-tazobactam and ceftazidime with a second drug often resulted in synergy. Combinations of these antibiotics with tobramycin exhibited synergy in 83% of the tests performed with the four P. aeruginosa isolates. In another study assessing multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa, ceftazidime plus tobramycin and piperacillin-tazobactam plus tobramycin combinations were evaluated, and synergy ratios of 67% and 50%, respectively, were observed17. With respect to fosfomycin, synergistic interactions with other antibacterial drugs were verified in 57% of the tests, a rate similar to that reported previously for multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa18. Fosfomycin enhances the active transport of tobramycin in P.aeruginosa19; in vitro synergic actions were also demonstrated for polymyxin E10, imipenem20, ceftazidime20 and ciprofloxacin21. Previous studies showed that rifampin had in vitro synergism with other antimicrobials2225, whereas in this investigation, synergism was more frequently demonstrated with imipenem and aminoglycosides.

The clinical application of the in vitro synergy results must be considered with caution in view of the variable susceptibilities of P. aeruginosa isolates to combined drugs and the pharmacokinetic characteristics of the antimicrobials. As observed in other studies26, 27, the rate of synergy of antibacterial combinations varies according to isolate and is not strictly associated with susceptibility or resistance to imipenem. Comparison of the two multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa isolates revealed more frequent and significant drug MIC reductions for the 46R isolate than for the 72R isolate. Thus, it is advisable to test each multidrug-resistant isolate with the different drugs in combination17,28.

Among the synergy results, only a few antibacterial combinations have led to sufficient MIC reductions that reach the breakpoint and the usual plasma level of the drugs, which is essential if a synergistic action in a clinical setting is going to take place5,28. For the 72R isolate, the only antibacterial combinations that would likely be synergic in vivo are imipenem plus gentamicin, piperacillin-tazobactam plus fosfomycin, ciprofloxacin plus fosfomycin, tobramycin plus fosfomycin and tobramycin plus rifampin.

In conclusion, antimicrobial synergy was observed against clinical isolates of imipenem-susceptible or imipenem-resistant P. aeruginosa. Some drug combinations resulted in sufficient MIC reductions, which suggests that these combinations may be of clinical use for infections of multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa as an alternative to antibiotic therapy with polymyxins.

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Received: January 23, 2013; Accepted: May 15, 2013

Address to: Dr. Roberto Martinez. FMRP/USP. Av Bandeirantes 3900, 14048-900 Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brasil. Phone: 55 16 3602-2468. e-mail: rmartine@fmrp.usp.br

Conflict of Interest: The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Financial Support: This research was supported by Fundação de Apoio ao Ensino, Pesquisa e Assistência do Hospital das Clínicas, Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo.

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