Inhibition of photosynthesis by a fluoroquinolone antibiotic

Ludmilla Aristilde*, Anastasios Melis, Garrison Sposito

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Recent microcosm studies have revealed that fluoroquinolone (FQ) antibiotics can have ecotoxicological impacts on photosynthetic organisms, but little is known about the mechanisms of toxicity.Weemployed a combination of modeling and experimental techniques to explore how FQs may have these unintended secondary toxic effects. Structure-activity analysis revealed that the quinolone ring and secondary amino group typically present in FQ antibiotics may mediate their action as quinone site inhibitors in photosystem II (PS-II), a key enzyme in photosynthetic electron transport. Follow-up molecular simulations involving nalidixic acid (Naldx), a nonfluorinated quinolone with a demonstrated adverse impact on photosynthesis, and ciprofloxacin (Cipro), the most commonly used FQ antibiotic, showed that both may interfere stereochemically with the catalytic activity of reaction center II (RC-II), the pheophytin-quinone-type center present in PS-II. Naldx can occupy the same binding site as the secondary quinone acceptor (QB) in RC-II and interact with amino acid residues required for the enzymatic reduction of Q B. Cipro binds in a somewhat different manner, suggesting a different mechanism of interference. Fluorescence induction kinetics, a common method of screening for PS-II inhibition, recorded for photoexcited thylakoid membranes isolated from Cipro-exposed spinach chloroplasts, indicated that Cipro interferes with the transfer of energy from excited antenna chlorophyll molecules to the reaction center in RC-II ([Cipro] ≥ 5 μM in vitro and ≥ 10 μM in vivo) and thus delays the kinetics of photoreduction of the primary quinone acceptor (QA; [Cipro] ≥ 0.6 μM in vitro). Spinach plants exposed to Cipro exhibited severe growth inhibition characterized by a decrease in both the synthesis of leaves and growth of the roots ([Cipro] ≥ 0.5 μM in vivo). Our results thus demonstrate that Cipro and related FQ antibioticsmayinterfere with photosynthetic pathways, in addition to causing morphological deformities in higher plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1444-1450
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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