Novel Disk Diffusion Assay on Magnesium Oxalate Agar To Evaluate the Susceptibility of Yersinia pestis to Type III Secretion System Inhibitors

Sukriti Prashar, Miguel Portales Guemes, Poorandai Shivbaran, Eugenia Jimenez Alvarez, Christopher Soha, Samir Nacer, Michael McDonough, Gregory V. Plano, Julie Torruellas Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current methods for screening small molecules that inhibit the plasmid pCD1-encoded Yersinia pestis type III secretion system (T3SS) include lengthy growth curves followed by multistep luminescence assays or Western blot assays to detect secretion, or lack thereof, of effector proteins. The goal of this research was to develop a novel disk diffusion assay on magnesium oxalate (MOX) agar as a simple way to evaluate the susceptibility of Y. pestis to type III secretion system inhibitors. MOX agar produces distinct Y. pestis growth characteristics based on the bacteria's ability or inability to secrete effector proteins; small, barely visible colonies are observed when secretion is activated versus larger, readily visible colonies when secretion is inhibited. Wild-type Y. pestis was diluted and spread onto a MOX agar plate. Disks containing 20ml of various concentrations of imidocarb dipropionate, a known Y. pestis T3SS inhibitor, or distilled water (dH2O) were placed on the plate. After incubation at 37°C for 48 h, visible colonies of Y. pestis were observed surrounding the disks with imidocarb dipropionate, suggesting that T3S was inhibited. The diameter of the growth of colonies surrounding the disks increased as the concentration of the T3SS inhibitor increased. Imidocarb dipropionate was also able to inhibit Y. pestis strains lacking effector Yops and Yop chaperones, suggesting that they are not necessary for T3S inhibition. This disk diffusion assay is a feasible and useful method for testing the susceptibility of Y. pestis to type III secretion system inhibitors and has the potential to be used in a clinical setting. IMPORTANCE Disk diffusion assays have traditionally been used as a simple and effective way to screen compounds for antibacterial activity and to determine the susceptibility of pathogens to antibiotics; however, they are limited to detecting growth inhibition only. Consequently, antimicrobial agents that inhibit virulence factors, but not growth, would not be detected. Therefore, we developed a disk diffusion assay that could detect inhibition of bacterial virulence factors, specifically, type III secretion systems (T3SSs), needle-like structures used by several pathogenic bacteria to inject host cells with effector proteins and cause disease. We demonstrate that magnesium oxalate (MOX) agar can be used in a disk diffusion assay to detect inhibition of the T3SS of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic plague, by small-molecule inhibitors. This assay may be useful for screening additional small molecules that target bacterial T3SSs or testing the susceptibility of patient-derived samples to drugs that target T3SSs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Yersinia pestis
  • disk diffusion assay
  • imidocarb dipropionate
  • magnesium oxalate agar
  • small molecule inhibitors
  • type III secretion system inhibitors
  • type III secretion systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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