Daptomycin forms a stable complex with phosphatidylglycerol for selective uptake to bacterial membrane

  1. Shenzhen Research Institute and Department of Chemistry, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China


  • Reviewing Editor
    Bavesh Kana
    University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Senior Editor
    Bavesh Kana
    University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):


In this manuscript, the molecular mechanism of interaction of daptomycin (DAP) with bacterial membrane phospholipids has been explored by fluorescence and CD spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and RP-HPLC. The mechanism of binding was found to be a two-step process. A fast reversible step of binding to the surface and a slow irreversible step of membrane insertion. Fluorescence-based titrations were performed and analysed to infer that daptomycin bound simultaneously two molecules of PG with nanomolar affinity in the presence of calcium. Conformational change but not membrane insertion was observed for DAP in the presence of cardiolipin and calcium.


The strength of the study is the skillful execution of biophysical experiments, especially stopped-flow kinetics that capture the first surface binding event, and the careful delineation of the stoichiometry.


The weakness of the study is that it does not add substantially to the previously known information and fails to provide additional molecular details. The current study provides incremental information on DAP-PG-calcium association but fails to capture the complex in mass spectrometry. The ITC and NMR studies with G3P are inconclusive There are no structural models presented. Another aspect missing from the study is the reconciliation between PG in the monomer, micellar, and membrane forms.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

The authors provide evidence for the early events of the lipopeptide daptomycin inserting into bacterial membranes. The authors utilize several biochemical and biophysical methods to characterize the nature of daptomycin interactions with a diverse set of phospholipids. The authors found that daptomycin, when complexed with calcium ions, can transiently interact with the headgroups of anionic phospholipids. In particular, the authors found that daptomycin rapidly interacts with the headgroup of cardiolipin and that this interaction is reversible and dependent on calcium. The authors provide evidence supporting previously published data that daptomycin interacts with phosphatidylglycerol (PG) with high affinity in a 1:2 ratio. The authors showed that this interaction includes both a calcium-dependent headgroup interaction (denoted the pre-insertion complex) and a distinct, irreversible interaction that is likely occurring between the hydrophobic tail of daptomycin with the tails of the PG molecules (denoted the quaternary complex of daptomycin, calcium, and 2 PG). The authors also isolated a daptomycin-containing complex from Bacillus subtilis cells following exposure to daptomycin and calcium. PG was identified from the isolated complex, albeit with a different acyl chain length from that used in vitro. Taken together, these data deepen our understanding of the stages of daptomycin interaction and intercalation in a membrane and can contribute to translational research on the development of structural analogs that could augment the efficacy of daptomycin treatment.

The authors have provided sufficient evidence to support a very specific interaction between daptomycin and PG, but their conclusions drawn from the data are exceedingly broad. In particular, the role of lipid II and lipid II precursors in the insertion and flipping events of daptomycin in the membrane are only briefly addressed despite the recently described pivotal role assigned to lipid II in the formation of a membrane-active daptomycin complex (Grein et al. Nature Communications 2020). While the authors put forth an intriguing and probable hypothesis that there are potentially multiple complexes and conformations of daptomycin as it incorporates within the membrane, the strength of the study's results and conclusions lies in its examination of the early headgroup interactions and distinctive PG interaction rather than the later events of daptomycin insertion in the membrane. The in vivo data presented supports the authors' model, but the conclusions do not address critical differences between the two very different systems i.e., in the behavior of micelles versus cell bilayer membranes.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):


Machhua et al. in their work focused on unravelling the molecular mechanism of daptomycin binding and interaction with bacterial cell membranes. Daptomycin (Dap) is an acidic, cyclic lipopeptide composed of 13 amino acids, known for preferential binding to anionic lipids, particularly phosphatidylglycerol (PG), which are prevalent components in the membranes of Gram-positive bacteria. The process of binding and antimicrobial efficacy of Dap is significantly influenced by the ionic composition of the surrounding environment, especially the presence of Ca2+ ions. The authors underscore the presence of significant knowledge gaps in our understanding of daptomycin's mode of action. Several critical questions remain unanswered, including the basis for selective recognition and accumulation in membranes of Gram-positive strains, the specific role of Ca2+ ions in this process, and the mechanisms by which daptomycin binds to and inserts into the cell membrane.

Dap is intrinsically fluorescent due to its kynurenine residue (Kyn-13) and this property allows direct imaging of Dap binding to model cell membranes without the need for additional labeling. Taking advantage of this Dap autofluorescence, authors monitored the emission intensity of micelles, composed of varying DMPG content upon their exposure to Dap and compared it with the kinetics of fluorescence observed for zwitterionic DMPC and other negatively charged lipids such as cardiolipin (CA), POPA and POPS. The authors noted that the linear relationship between DMPG content and Dap fluorescence is strongly lipid-specific, as it was not observed for other anionic lipids. The manuscript sheds light on the specificity of Dap's interaction with CA and DMPG lipids. Through Ca2+ sequestration with EGTA, the authors demonstrated that the binding of Dap with CA is reversible, while its interaction with DMPG results in the irreversible insertion of Dap into the lipid membrane structure, caused by the significant conformational change of this lipopeptide. The formation of a stable DMPG-Dap complex was also verified in bacterial cells isolated from Gram-positive bacteria B. subtilis, where Dap exhibited a permanent binding to PG lipids.

Altogether, the authors endeavored to illuminate novel insights into the molecular basis of Dap binding, interaction, and the mechanism of insertion into bacterial cell membranes. Such understanding holds promise for the development of innovative strategies in combating drug resistance and the emergence of the so-called superbugs.


- The manuscript by Machhua et al. provides a comprehensive analysis of the Dap mechanism of binding and interaction with the membrane. It discusses various aspects of this, only apparently trivial interactions such as the importance of PG presence in the membrane, the impact of Ca2+ ions, and different mechanisms of Dap binding with other negatively charged lipids.

- The authors focused not only on model membranes (micelles) but also extended their research to bacterial cell membranes obtained from B. subtilis.

- The research is not only a report of the experimental findings but tries to give potential hypotheses explaining the molecular mechanisms behind the observed results.


- The authors overestimate their findings, stating that they propose a novel mechanism of Dap interaction with bacterial cell membranes. In fact, they rather extend the already reported hypotheses.

- The literature study was not done as thoroughly as it should be. Many publications discussing the importance and mechanism of action of Ca2+ ions or conformational changes of daptomycin were not cited.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation