Lantibiotics are antimicrobial peptides that possess great potential as clinical therapeutic agents. These peptides exhibit many beneficial traits and in many cases the emergence of resistance is extremely rare. In contrast, producers of lantibiotics synthesize dedicated immunity proteins to provide self-protection. These proteins have very specific activities and cross-immunity is rare. However, producers of two peptide lantibiotics, such as lacticin 3147, face the unusual challenge of exposure to two active peptides (alpha and beta). Here, in addition to establishing the contribution of LtnI and LtnFE to lacticin 3147 immunity, investigations were carried out to determine if production of a closely related lantibiotic (i.e. staphylococcin C55) or possession of LtnI/LtnFE homologues could provide protection. Here we establish that not only are staphylococcin C55 producers cross-immune to lacticin 3147, and therefore represent a natural repository of Staphylococcus aureus strains that are protected against lacticin 3147, but that functional immunity homologues are also produced by strains of Bacillus licheniformis and Enterococcus faecium. This result raises the spectre of resistance through immune mimicry, i.e. the emergence of lantibiotic-resistant strains from the environment resulting from the possession/acquisition of immunity gene homologues. These phenomena will have to be considered carefully when developing lantibiotics for clinical application.
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