Current Genetics

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 753–757 | Cite as

Use of bacteriophage to target bacterial surface structures required for virulence: a systematic search for antibiotic alternatives

  • Paul E. OrndorffEmail author


Bacteriophages (phage) that infect pathogenic bacteria often attach to surface receptors that are coincidentally required for virulence. Receptor loss or modification through mutation renders mutants both attenuated and phage resistant. Such attenuated mutants frequently have no apparent laboratory growth defects, but in the host, they fail to exhibit properties needed to produce disease such as mucosal colonization or survival within professional phagocytic cells. The connection between attenuation and phage resistance has been exploited in experimental demonstrations of phage therapy. In such experiments, phage resistant mutants that arise naturally during therapy are inconsequential because of their attenuated status. A more contemporary approach to exploiting this connection involves identifying small effector molecules, identified in high-throughput screens, that inhibit one or more of the steps needed to produce a functioning phage receptor. Since such biosynthetic steps are unique to bacteria, inhibitors can be utilized therapeutically, in lieu of antibiotics. Also, since the inhibitor is specific to a particular bacterium or group of bacteria, no off-target resistance is generated in the host’s commensal bacterial population. This brief review covers examples of how mutations that confer phage resistance produce attenuation, and how this coincidental relationship can be exploited in the search for the next generation of therapeutic agents for bacterial diseases.


Bacteriophage Phage Receptor Attenuation Therapy Antibiotic Alternative Antivirulence factor 



My thanks to Edward A. Havell, Patricia A. Spears, Luke B. Borst and Johanna R. Elfenbein for a critical reading of this manuscript prior to submission. Work in the author’s laboratory is supported by Public Health Service Grants AI103549, AI083838, and AI064333.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Population Health and Pathobiology, College of Veterinary MedicineNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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