Degradable antimicrobial polycarbonates with unexpected activity and selectivity for treating multidrug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae lung infection in mice
Multidrug resistant (MDR) Klebsiella pneumoniae is a major cause of healthcare-associated infections around the world, with attendant high rates of morbidity and mortality. Progressive reduction in potency of antibiotics capable of treating MDR K. pneumoniae infections – including lung infection – as a consequence of escalating drug resistance provides the motivation to develop drug candidates targeting MDR K. pneumoniae. We recently reported degradable broad-spectrum antimicrobial guanidinium-functionalized polycarbonates with unique antimicrobial mechanism – membrane translocation followed by precipitation of cytosolic materials. These polymers exhibited high potency against bacteria with negligible toxicity. The polymer with ethyl spacer between the quanidinium group and the polymer backbone (pEt_20) showed excellent in vivo efficacy for treating MDR K. pneumoniae-caused peritonitis in mice. In this study, the structures of the polymers were optimized for the treatment of MDR Klebsiella pneumoniae lung infection. Specifically, in vitro antimicrobial activity and selectivity of guanidinium-functionalized polycarbonates containing the same number of guanidinium groups but of a shorter chain length and a structural analogue containing a thiouronium moiety as the pendent cationic group were evaluated. The polymers with optimal compositions and varying hydrophobicity were assessed against 25 clinically isolated K. pneumonia strains for antimicrobial activity and killing kinetics. The results showed that the polymers killed the bacteria more efficiently than clinically used antibiotics, and repeated use of the polymers did not cause drug resistance in K. pneumonia. Particularly, the polymer with butyl spacer (pBut_20) self-assembled into micelles at high concentrations, where the hydrophobic component was shielded in the micellar core, preventing interacting with mammalian cells. A subtle change in the hydrophobicity increased the antimicrobial activity while reducing in vivo toxicity. The in vivo efficacy studies showed that pBut_20 alleviated K. pneumonia lung infection without inducing damage to major organs. Taken together, pBut_20 is promising for treating MDR Klebsiella pneumoniae lung infection in vivo. Statement of Significance: Multidrug resistant (MDR) Klebsiella pneumoniae is a major cause of healthcare-associated infections, with attendant high rates of morbidity and mortality. The progressive reduction in antibiotics capable of treating MDR K. pneumoniae infections – including lung infection – as a consequence of escalating drug resistance rates provides the motivation to develop drug candidates. In this study, we report a degradable guanidinium-functionalized polycarbonate with unexpected antimicrobial activity and selectivity towards MDR Klebsiella pneumoniae. A subtle change in polymer hydrophobicity increases antimicrobial activity while reducing in vivo toxicity due to self-assembly at high concentrations. The polymer with optimal composition alleviates Klebsiella pneumonia lung infection without inducing damage to major organs. The polymer is promising for treating MDR Klebsiella pneumoniae lung infection in vivo.