Phenazine-1-carboxylic acid promotes bacterial biofilm development via ferrous iron acquisition

Yun Wang*, Jessica C. Wilks, Thomas Danhorn, Itzel Ramos, Laura Croal, Dianne K. Newman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa forms biofilms, which render it more resistant to antimicrobial agents. Levels of iron in excess of what is required for planktonic growth have been shown to promote biofilm formation, and therapies that interfere with ferric iron [Fe(III)] uptake combined with antibiotics may help treat P. aeruginosa infections. However, use of these therapies presumes that iron is in the Fe(III) state in the context of infection. Here we report the ability of phenazine-1-carboxylic acid (PCA), a common phenazine made by all phenazine-producing pseudomonads, to help P. aeruginosa alleviate Fe(III) limitation by reducing Fe(III) to ferrous iron [Fe(II)]. In the presence of PCA, a P. aeruginosa mutant lacking the ability to produce the siderophores pyoverdine and pyochelin can still develop into a biofilm. As has been previously reported (P. K. Singh, M. R. Parsek, E. P. Greenberg, and M. J. Welsh, Nature 417:552-555, 2002), biofilm formation by the wild type is blocked by subinhibitory concentrations of the Fe(III)-binding innateimmunity protein conalbumin, but here we show that this blockage can be rescued by PCA. FeoB, an Fe(II) uptake protein, is required for PCA to enable this rescue. Unlike PCA, the phenazine pyocyanin (PYO) can facilitate biofilm formation via an iron-independent pathway. While siderophore-mediated Fe(III) uptake is undoubtedly important at early stages of infection, these results suggest that at later stages of infection, PCA present in infected tissues may shift the redox equilibrium between Fe(III) and Fe(II), thereby making iron more bioavailable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3606-3617
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology

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