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The biochemical fate of Ag+ ions in Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and biological media


  • Betts, Harley D.
  • Neville, Stephanie L.
  • McDevitt, Christopher A.
  • Sumby, Christopher J.
  • Harris, Hugh H.


Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Volume 225, 2021-12-31

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Silver is commonly included in a range of household and medical items to provide bactericidal action. Despite this, the chemical fate of the metal in both mammalian and bacterial systems remains poorly understood. Here, we applied a metallomics approach using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and size-exclusion chromatography hyphenated with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (SEC-ICP-MS) to advance our understanding of the biochemical fate of silver ions in bacterial culture and cells, and the chemistry associated with these interactions. When silver ions were added to lysogeny broth, silver was exclusively associated with moderately-sized species (~30 kDa) and bound by thiolate ligands. In two representative bacterial pathogens cultured in lysogeny broth including sub-lethal concentrations of ionic silver, silver was found in cells to be predominantly coordinated by thiolate species. The silver biomacromolecule-binding profile in Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli was complex, with silver bound by a range of species spanning from 20 kDa to >1220 kDa. In bacterial cells, silver was nonuniformly colocalised with copper-bound proteins, suggesting that cellular copper processing may, in part, confuse silver for nutrient copper. Notably, in the treated cells, silver was not detected bound to low molecular weight compounds such as glutathione or bacillithiol.