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      Toxicity of polymyxins: a systematic review of the evidence from old and recent studies

      , 1 , 2 , 3 , 1

      Critical Care

      BioMed Central

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          The increasing problem of multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria causing severe infections and the shortage of new antibiotics to combat them has led to the re-evaluation of polymyxins. These antibiotics were discovered from different species of Bacillus polymyxa in 1947; only two of them, polymyxin B and E (colistin), have been used in clinical practice. Their effectiveness in the treatment of infections due to susceptible Gram-negative bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii, has not been generally questioned. However, their use was abandoned, except in patients with cystic fibrosis, because of concerns related to toxicity.


          We reviewed old and recent evidence regarding polymyxin-induced toxicity by searching Pubmed (from 1950 until May 2005).


          It was reported in the old literature that the use of polymyxins was associated with considerable toxicity, mainly nephrotoxicity and neurotoxicity, including neuromuscular blockade. However, recent studies showed that the incidence of nephrotoxicity is less common and severe compared to the old studies. In addition, neurotoxic effects of polymyxins are usually mild and resolve after prompt discontinuation of the antibiotics. Furthermore, cases of neuromuscular blockade and apnea have not been reported in the recent literature.


          New evidence shows that polymyxins have less toxicity than previously reported. The avoidance of concurrent administration of nephrotoxic and/or neurotoxic drugs, careful dosing, as well as more meticulous management of fluid and electrolyte abnormalities and use of critical care services may be some of the reasons for the discrepancy between data reported in the old and recent literature.

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          Most cited references 85

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          Colistin: the revival of polymyxins for the management of multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacterial infections.

          The emergence of multidrug-resistant gram-negative bacteria and the lack of new antibiotics to combat them have led to the revival of polymyxins, an old class of cationic, cyclic polypeptide antibiotics. Polymyxin B and polymyxin E (colistin) are the 2 polymyxins used in clinical practice. Most of the reintroduction of polymyxins during the last few years is related to colistin. The polymyxins are active against selected gram-negative bacteria, including Acinetobacter species, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella species, and Enterobacter species. These drugs have been used extensively worldwide for decades for local use. However, parenteral use of these drugs was abandoned approximately 20 years ago in most countries, except for treatment of patients with cystic fibrosis, because of reports of common and serious nephrotoxicity and neurotoxicity. Recent studies of patients who received intravenous polymyxins for the treatment of serious P. aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii infections of various types, including pneumonia, bacteremia, and urinary tract infections, have led to the conclusion that these antibiotics have acceptable effectiveness and considerably less toxicity than was reported in old studies.
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            Intravenous colistin as therapy for nosocomial infections caused by multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii.

            Sixty nosocomial infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii resistant to aminoglycosides, cephalosporins, quinolones, penicillins, monobactams, and imipenem were treated with colistin (one patient had two infections that are included as two different cases). The infections were pneumonia (33% of patients), urinary tract infection (20%), primary bloodstream infection (15%), central nervous system infection (8%), peritonitis (7%), catheter-related infection (7%), and otitis media (2%). A good outcome occurred for 35 patients (58%), and three patients died within the first 48 hours of treatment. The poorest results were observed in cases of pneumonia: only five (25%) of 20 had a good outcome. A good outcome occurred for four of five patients with central nervous system infections, although no intrathecal treatment was given. The main adverse effect of treatment was renal failure; 27% of patients with initially normal renal function had renal failure, and renal function worsened in 58% of patients with abnormal baseline creatinine levels. Colistin may be a good therapeutic option for the treatment of severe infections caused by multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa and A. baumannii.
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              Treatment of multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) with intravenous colistin: a comparison with imipenem-susceptible VAP.

              We prospectively evaluated the efficacy and toxicity of intravenously administered colistin in 35 episodes of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) due to multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii. Microbiological diagnosis was performed with use of quantitative culture. In 21 patients, the episodes were caused by a strain susceptible exclusively to colistin (the CO group) and were all treated with this antimicrobial intravenously. In 14 patients, the episodes were caused by strains that remained susceptible to imipenem and were treated with imipenem-cilastatin (the IM group). Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II scores at the time of admission and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment scores at time of diagnosis were similar in both groups. VAP was considered clinically cured in 57% of cases in both groups. In-hospital mortality rates were 61.9% in the CO group and 64.2% in the IM group, and the VAP-related mortality rates were 38% and 35.7%, respectively. Four patients in the CO group and 6 in the IM group developed renal failure. Neurophysiological evaluation was performed during 12 episodes in the CO group, but it revealed no signs of neuromuscular blockade. Intravenous colistin appears to be a safe and effective alternative to imipenem for the management of VAP due to carbapenem-resistant strains of A. baumannii.

                Author and article information

                Crit Care
                Critical Care
                BioMed Central (London )
                13 February 2006
                : 10
                : 1
                : R27
                [1 ]Alfa Institute of Biomedical Sciences (AIBS), Athens, Greece
                [2 ]Department of Medicine, 'Henry Dunant' Hospital, Athens, Greece
                [3 ]Department of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
                Copyright © 2006 Falagas and Kasiakou; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


                Emergency medicine & Trauma


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