Multidrug efflux transporters, especially those that belong to the resistance-nodulation-division (RND) family, often show very broad substrate specificity and play a major role both in the intrinsic antibiotic resistance and, with increased levels of expression, in the elevated resistance of Gram-negative bacteria. However, it has not been possible to determine the kinetic behavior of these important pumps so far. This is partly because these pumps form a tripartite complex traversing both the cytoplasmic and outer membranes, with an outer membrane channel and a periplasmic adaptor protein, and it is uncertain if the behavior of an isolated component protein reflects that of the protein in this multiprotein complex. Here we use intact cells of Escherichia coli containing the intact multiprotein complex AcrB-AcrA-TolC, and measure the kinetic constants for various cephalosporins, by assessing the periplasmic concentration of the drug from their rate of hydrolysis by periplasmic β-lactamase and the rate of efflux as the difference between the influx rate and the hydrolysis rate. Nitrocefin efflux showed a Km of about 5 μM with little sign of cooperativity. For other compounds (cephalothin, cefamandole, and cephaloridine) that showed lower affinity to the pump, however, kinetics showed strong positive cooperativity, which is consistent with the rotating catalysis model of this trimeric pump. For the very hydrophilic cefazolin there was little sign of efflux
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