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Clinical data
Trade names Coly-mycinm; Coly-monas (India)
  • C
Routes of
topical, oral, intravenous, inhaled
ATC code
Legal status
Legal status
  • UK: POM (Prescription only)
  • US: not available
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability 0%
Biological half-life 5 hours
CAS Number
PubChem CID
ECHA InfoCard 100.013.668
Chemical and physical data
Formula C52H98N16O13
Molar mass 1155.4495 g/mol
3D model (Jmol)
 NYesY (what is this?)  (verify)

Colistin, also known as polymyxin E, is an antibiotic produced by certain strains of the bacteria Paenibacillus polymyxa. Colistin is a mixture of the cyclic polypeptides colistin A and B and belongs to the class of polypeptide antibiotics known as polymyxins. Colistin is effective against most Gram-negative bacilli.

Colistin is a decades-old drug that fell out of favor in human medicine due to its kidney toxicity. It remains one of the last-resort antibiotics for multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Acinetobacter.[1] NDM-1 metallo-β-lactamase multidrug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae have also shown susceptibility to colistin.[2]

Resistance to colistin in humans is rare. The first colistin-resistance gene in a plasmid which can be transferred between bacterial strains was found in 2011 in China and became publicly known in November 2015. The presence of this plasmid-borne mcr-1 gene was confirmed starting December 2015 in SE-Asia, several European countries and the United States.


Colistin was first isolated in Japan in 1949 from a flask of fermenting Bacillus polymyxa var. colistinus by the Japanese scientist Koyama[3] and became available for clinical use in 1959[4]

Colistimethate sodium, a less toxic prodrug, became available for injection in 1959. In the 1980s, polymyxin use was widely discontinued because of nephro- and neurotoxicity. As multi-drug resistant bacteria became more prevalent in the 1990s, colistin started to get a second look as an emergency solution, in spite of toxic effects.[5]

Administration and dosage[edit]


Two forms of colistin are available commercially: colistin sulfate and colistimethate sodium (colistin methanesulfonate sodium, colistin sulfomethate sodium). Colistin sulfate is cationic; colistimethate sodium is anionic. Colistin sulfate is stable, but colistimethate sodium is readily hydrolysed to a variety of methanesulfonated derivatives. Colistin sulfate and colistimethate sodium are eliminated from the body by different routes. With respect to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, colistimethate is the inactive prodrug of colistin. The two drugs are not interchangeable .

  • Colistimethate sodium may be used to treat Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in cystic fibrosis patients, and it has come into recent use for treating multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter infection, although resistant forms have been reported.[6][7] Colistimethate sodium has also been given intrathecally and intraventricularly in Acinetobacter baumannii and Pseudomonas aeruginosa meningitis/ventriculitis[8][9][10][11] Some studies have indicated that colistin may be useful for treating infections caused by carbapenem-resistant isolates of Acinetobacter baumannii.[7]
  • Colistin sulfate may be used to treat intestinal infections, or to suppress colonic flora. Colistin sulfate is also used as topical creams, powders, and otic solutions.
  • Colistin A (polymyxin E1) and colistin B (polymyxin E2) can be purified individually to research and study their effects and potencies as separate compounds.


Colistin sulfate and colistimethate sodium may both be given intravenously, but the dosing is complicated. The very different labeling of the parenteral products of colistin methanesulfonate in different parts of the world was first revealed by Li et al.[12] Colistimethate sodium manufactured by Xellia (Colomycin injection) is prescribed in international units, but colistimethate sodium manufactured by Parkdale Pharmaceuticals (Coly-Mycin M Parenteral) is prescribed in milligrams of colistin base:

  • Colomycin 1,000,000 units is 80 mg colistimethate;[13]
  • Coly-mycin M 150 mg "colistin base" is 360 mg colistimethate or 4,500,000 units.[14]

Because colistin was introduced into clinical practice over 50 years ago, it was never subject to the regulations that modern drugs are subject to, and therefore there is no standardised dosing of colistin and no detailed trials on pharmacology or pharmacokinetics: The optimal dosing of colistin for most infections is therefore unknown. Colomycin has a recommended intravenous dose of 1 to 2 million units three times daily for patients weighing 60 kg or more with normal renal function. Coly-Mycin has a recommended dose of 2.5 to 5 mg/kg colistin base a day, which is equivalent to 6 to 12 mg/kg colistimethate sodium per day. For a 60 kg man, therefore, the recommended dose for Colomycin is 240 to 480 mg of colistimethate sodium, yet the recommended dose for Coly-Mycin is 360 to 720 mg of colistimethate sodium. Likewise, the recommended "maximum" dose for each preparation is different (480 mg for Colomycin and 720 mg for Coly-Mycin). Each country has different generic preparations of colistin, and the recommended dose depends on the manufacturer. This complete absence of any regulation or standardisation of dose makes intravenous colistin dosing difficult for any physician.[citation needed]

Colistin has been used in combination with rifampicin, and evidence of in-vitro synergy exists,[15][16] and the combination has been used successfully in patients.[17] There is also in-vitro evidence of synergy for colistimethate sodium used in combination with other antipseudomonal antibiotics.[18]

Colistimethate sodium aerosol (Promixin; Colomycin Injection) is used to treat pulmonary infections, especially in cystic fibrosis. In the UK, the recommended adult dose is 1–2 million units (80–160 mg) nebulised colistimethate twice daily.[19][20]

Mechanism of action[edit]

Colistin is a polycationic peptide and has both hydrophilic and lipophilic moieties.[citation needed] These cationic regions interact with the bacterial outer membrane, by displacing magnesium and calcium bacterial counter ions in the lipopolysaccharide.[citation needed] Hydrophobic/hydrophilic regions interact with the cytoplasmic membrane just like a detergent, solubilizing the membrane in an aqueous environment.[citation needed] This effect is bactericidal even in an isosmolar environment.[citation needed]

Antibacterial spectrum[edit]

Colistin has been effective in treating infections caused by Pseudomonas, Escherichia, and Klebsiella species. The following represents MIC susceptibility data for a few medically significant microorganisms.

  • Escherichia coli: 0.12–128 μg/ml
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae: 0.25–128 μg/ml
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa: ≤0.06–16 μg/ml


For example, colistin in combination with other drugs are used to attack P. aeruginosa biofilm infection in lungs of CF patients.[23] Biofilms have a low oxygen environment below the surface where bacteria are metabolically inactive and colistin is highly effective in this environment. However, P. aeruginosa reside in the top layers of the biofilm, where they remain metabolically active.[24] This is because surviving tolerant cells migrate to the top of the biofilm via pili motility and form new aggregates via quorum sensing.[25]


Resistance to colistin is rare, but has been described. As of 2017, no agreement exists about how to look for colistin resistance. The fr:Société Française de Microbiologie uses a cut-off of 2 mg/l, whereas the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy sets a cutoff of 4 mg/l or less as sensitive, and 8 mg/ml or more as resistant. No standards for measuring colistin sensitivity are given in the US.

The plasmid-borne mcr-1 gene has been found to confer resistance to colistin.[26] The first colistin-resistance gene in a plasmid which can be transferred between bacterial strains was found in 2011 and became publicly known in November 2015.[26][27] This plasmid-borne mcr-1 gene has since been isolated in China,[26] Europe[28] and the United States.[29]

India reported the first detailed colistin-resistance study which mapped 13 colistin-resistant cases recorded over 18 months. It concluded that pan-drug resistant infections, particularly those in the blood stream, have a higher mortality. Multiple other cases were reported from other Indian hospitals.[30][31] Although resistance to polymyxins is generally[where?] less than 10%,[specify] it is more frequent in the Mediterranean and South-East Asia (Korea and Singapore), where colistin resistance rates are continually increasing.[32] Colistin-resistant E. coli was identified in the United States in May 2016.[33]

Use of colistin to treat Acinetobacter baumannii infections has led to the development of resistant bacterial strains. which have also developed resistance to antimicrobial compounds LL-37 and lysozyme, produced by the human immune system.[34]

Inherently resistant[edit]

Variable resistance[edit]


No clinically useful absorption of colistin occurs in the gastrointestinal tract. For systemic infection, colistin must, therefore, be given by injection. Colistimethate is eliminated by the kidneys, but colistin is supposed to be eliminated by non-renal mechanism(s) that are as yet not characterised.[36][37]

Adverse reactions[edit]

The main toxicities described with intravenous treatment are nephrotoxicity (damage to the kidneys) and neurotoxicity (damage to the nerves),[38][39][40][41] but this may reflect the very high doses given, which are much higher than the doses currently recommended by any manufacturer and for which no adjustment was made for renal disease. Neuro- and nephrotoxic effects appear to be transient and subside on discontinuation of therapy or reduction in dose.[42]

At a dose of 160 mg colistimethate IV every eight hours, very little nephrotoxicity is seen.[43][44] Indeed, colistin appears to have less toxicity than the aminoglycosides that subsequently replaced it, and it has been used for extended periods up to six months with no ill effects.[45]

The main toxicity described with aerosolised treatment is bronchospasm,[46] which can be treated or prevented with the use of beta2-agonists such as salbutamol[47] or following a desensitisation protocol.[48]


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