The Molecular Basis of Acinetobacter baumannii Cadmium Toxicity and Resistance

Saleh F. Alquethamy, Felise G. Adams, Ram Maharjan, Natasha N. Delgado, Maoge Zang, Katherine Ganio, James C. Paton, Karl A. Hassan, Ian T. Paulsen, Christopher A. McDevitt, Amy K. Cain, Bart A. Eijkelkamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Acinetobacter species are ubiquitous Gram-negative bacteria that can be found in water, in soil, and as commensals of the human skin. The successful inhabitation of Acinetobacter species in diverse environments is primarily attributable to the expression of an arsenal of stress resistance determinants, which includes an extensive repertoire of metal ion efflux systems. Metal ion homeostasis in the hospital pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii contributes to pathogenesis; however, insights into its metal ion transporters for environmental persistence are lacking. Here, we studied the impact of cadmium stress on A. baumannii. Our functional genomics and independent mutant analyses revealed a primary role for CzcE, a member of the cation diffusion facilitator (CDF) superfamily, in resisting cadmium stress. We also show that the CzcCBA heavy metal efflux system contributes to cadmium efflux. Collectively, these systems provide A. baumannii with a comprehensive cadmium translocation pathway from the cytoplasm to the periplasm and subsequently the extracellular space. Furthermore, analysis of the A. baumannii metallome under cadmium stress showed zinc depletion, as well as copper enrichment, both of which are likely to influence cellular fitness. Overall, this work provides new knowledge on the role of a broad arsenal of membrane transporters in A. baumannii metal ion homeostasis. IMPORTANCE Cadmium toxicity is a widespread problem, yet the interaction of this heavy metal with biological systems is poorly understood. Some microbes have evolved traits to proactively counteract cadmium toxicity, including Acinetobacter baumannii, which is notorious for persisting in harsh environments. Here, we show that A. baumannii utilizes a dedicated cadmium efflux protein in concert with a system that is primarily attuned to zinc efflux to efficiently overcome cadmium stress. The molecular characterization of A. baumannii under cadmium stress revealed how active cadmium efflux plays a key role in preventing the dysregulation of bacterial metal ion homeostasis, which appeared to be a primary means by which cadmium exerts toxicity upon the bacterium.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01718-21
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2021


  • Acinetobacter
  • cadmium
  • cell membranes
  • efflux
  • heavy metal


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