To Make or Take: Bacterial Lipid Homeostasis during Infection

Felise G. Adams, Claudia Trappetti, Jack K. Waters, Maoge Zang, Erin B. Brazel, James C. Paton, Marten F. Snel, Bart A. Eijkelkamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


Bacterial fatty acids are critical components of the cellular membrane. A shift in environmental conditions or in the bacterium's lifestyle may result in the requirement for a distinct pool of fatty acids with unique biophysical properties. This can be achieved by the modification of existing fatty acids or via de novo synthesis. Furthermore, bacteria have evolved efficient means to acquire these energy-rich molecules from their environment. However, the balance between de novo fatty acid synthesis and exogenous acquisition during pathogenesis is poorly understood. Here, we studied the mouse fatty acid landscape prior to and after infection with Acinetobacter baumannii, a Gram-negative, opportunistic human pathogen. The lipid fluxes observed following infection revealed fatty acid- and niche-specific changes. Lipidomic profiling of A. baumannii isolated from the pleural cavity of mice identified novel A. baumannii membrane phospholipid species and an overall increased abundance of unsaturated fatty acid species. Importantly, we found that A. baumannii relies largely upon fatty acid acquisition in all but one of the studied niches, the blood, where the pathogen biosynthesizes its own fatty acids. This work is the first to reveal the significance of balancing the making and taking of fatty acids in a Gram-negative bacterium during infection, which provides new insights into the validity of targeting fatty acid synthesis as a treatment strategy. IMPORTANCE Acinetobacter baumannii is one of the world's most problematic superbugs and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality in the hospital environment. The critical need for new antimicrobial strategies is recognized, but our understanding of its behavior and adaptation to a changing environment during infection is limited. Here, we investigated the role of fatty acids at the host-pathogen interface using a mouse model of disease. We provide comprehensive insights into the bacterial membrane composition when the bacteria colonize the pleural cavity. Furthermore, we show that A. baumannii heavily relies upon making its own fatty acids when residing in the blood, whereas the bacterium favors fatty acid acquisition in most other host niches. Our new knowledge aids in understanding the importance of host fatty acids in infectious diseases. Furthermore, fatty acid synthesis is an attractive target for the development of new antimicrobial strategies, but our work emphasizes the critical need to understand microbial lipid homeostasis before this can be deemed suitable.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00928-21
Pages (from-to)e0092821
Number of pages5
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Acinetobacter
  • fatty acids
  • lipids
  • membrane biogenesis
  • pathogenesis


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