Overview of antibiotic therapy

Last updated: June 5, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Antibiotics are a class of drugs employed mainly against bacterial infections. Some antibiotics are also used against parasitic infections. Antibiotics can have bacteriostatic (i.e., stopping bacterial reproduction), bactericidal (i.e., killing bacteria), or both mechanisms of action. Antibiotics are effective against either a small group of bacteria (narrow-spectrum) or a wide range of pathogens (broad-spectrum). Most antibiotics work by inhibiting cell wall synthesis, protein synthesis, or certain enzymes (e.g., THF, RNA-polymerase) in bacteria. Common side effects of antibiotic treatment include hypersensitivity reactions, as well as nephrotoxic and hepatotoxic effects. Many antibiotics are contraindicated in certain patient groups (e.g., children, pregnant and/or breastfeeding women). In the case of severe infection, one or more antibiotics may be initiated without waiting for a microbiological confirmation (empiric antibiotic therapy) to target the most likely pathogens. Antibiotics are widely used because they are instrumental in the management of infectious diseases; however, use of antibiotics without valid indications and with inappropriate dosages and timing has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens (e.g., MRSA, Pseudomonas).

Overviewtoggle arrow icon


As a general rule, agents that inhibit cell wall synthesis are bactericidal (except ethambutol), while those that inhibit protein synthesis are bacteriostatic (except rifamycins, and aminoglycosides).

Overview [1][2]

Overview of antibiotics
Antibacterial classes Examples Mechanism of action Bacteriostatic/bactericidal Mechanisms of resistance
Inhibition of cell wall synthesis


  • Cleavage by β-lactamases (less suceptible than other ß-lactams)



  • Reduced penetration
  • Enzyme gene overexpression
  • Enzymatic inactivation
Disruption of cell membrane integrity
Inhibition of protein synthesis - 30S ribosomal subunit
  • Inhibit initiation complex → protein mistranslation
  • Reduced cell wall penetration
  • Removal by efflux pumps (plasmid-encoded)
  • Production of a protein that protects ribosome
Glycylcyclines (tetracyclin derivative)
Inhibition of protein synthesis - 50S ribosomal subunit
Macrolides and ketolides
  • Bind to 23S rRNA inhibition of transpeptidation, translocation, and chain elongation → ↓ protein synthesis
  • Reduced penetration
  • Mutation of bacterial ribosome binding site
  • Reduced penetration
  • Enzymatic inactivation by acetyltransferase (plasmid-encoded)
DNA gyrase inhibition
Disruption of DNA integrity
  • Prodrug [6]
  • Free radical formation → single-strand breaks in DNA molecules
  • Reduced activation due to decreased enzymatic activity
Inhibition of folic acid synthesis and reduction
Sulfonamides and diaminopyrimidines
  • Overproduction of para-aminobenzoate (PABA)
  • Decreased uptake
  • Structural changes on target enzymes (e.g., dihydropteroate synthase)
  • Efflux pumps
Antimycobacterial drugs


  • Prodrug
  • Not completely understood
Ethylenediamine derivates
  • Enzyme-mediated reduction
  • Efflux pumps

AcTions at 30, CELebrationS at 50: Aminoglycosides and Tetracyclines are 30S inhibitors; Chloramphenicol/Clindamycin, macrolides (e.g., Erythromycin), Linezolid, and Streptogramin are 50S inhibitors.

All protein synthesis inhibitors are bacteriostatic, except aminoglycosides (bactericidal) and linezolid (can be either bactericidal or bacteriostatic depending on concentration).

Beta-lactam antibioticstoggle arrow icon


Beta-lactamase inhibitors

CATS: Clavulanate, Avibactam, Tazobactam, Sulbactam are β-lactamase inhibitors.

Penicillinstoggle arrow icon

Natural penicillins (prototype beta-lactam antibiotics)

Penicillinase-resistant penicillins

Use NAF (nafcillin) for STAPH (S. aureus).

Aminopenicillins (penicillinase-sensitive penicillins)

AmOxicillin is administered Orally, while amPicillin is administered by a Prick!

Aminopenicillin therapy HHEELPSSS against H. influenzae, H. pylori, E. coli, Enterococci, Listeria monocytogenes, Proteus mirabilis, Salmonella, Shigella, Spirochetes.

Antipseudomonal penicillins

The PIPER in his CAR full of TICks ran over Pseudomonas: PIPERacillin, CARbenicillin, and TICarcillin are antipseudomonals.

Carbapenemstoggle arrow icon

Get a kill that is lastin' with imipenem plus cilastatin.

don't DIe on ME: Doripenem, lmipenem, Meropenem, and Ertapenem are carbapenems and used in life-threatening infections.

Monobactamstoggle arrow icon

Cephalosporinstoggle arrow icon

Overview of clinical use of cephalosporins
1st generation cephalosporins 2nd generation cephalosporins 3rd generation cephalosporins 4th generation cephalosporins 5th generation cephalosporins
  • Oral: cephalexin
  • IV, IM: cefazolin
  • Oral: cefaclor, cefuroxime
  • IV: cefuroxime, cefoxitin, cefotetan
  • Oral: cefixime, cefpodoxime, cefdinir
  • IV: ceftriaxone, cefotaxime, ceftazidime
  • IM: ceftriaxone
  • IV cefepime
  • IV ceftaroline
Microbial coverage
Activity against gram-positive bacteria
  • Highly active
  • Less active than 1st generation
  • Highly active
  • Highly active
Gram-negative bacteria coverage
  • Extended-spectrum
  • Extended-spectrum
  • Extended-spectrum
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • No
Atypicals (Chlamydia, Mycoplasma, Legionella)
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • No
Special clinical considerations
  • N/A
  • Used for severe life-threatening infections (including nosocomial)
  • N/A

1 PEcK: 1st generation cephalosporins cover Proteus mirabilis, E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae.
2 HENS PEcK: 2nd generation cephalosporins cover H. influenzae, Enterobacter aerogenes (now Klebsiella aerogenes), Neisseria,
Serratia marcescens, Proteus mirabilis, E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae.

2nd graders wear fake fox fur to tea parties: 2nd generation cephalosporins include cefaclor, cefoxitin, cefuroxime, and cefotetan.

Cephalosporins are LAME: 1st–4th generation cephalosporins do not act against Listeria, Atypical organisms (e.g., Chlamydia, Mycoplasma), MRSA, and Enterococci (with the exception of ceftaroline, which does act against MRSA).

Glycopeptidestoggle arrow icon

The vancomycin van carries a TON of flashy DRESSes: the side effects of vancomycin are Thrombophlebitis, Ototoxicity, Nephrotoxicity, vancomycin flushing reaction, and DRESS syndrome.

The fine for VANdalism is one DALlAr in LACjac: VANcomycin resistance is caused by amino acid modification (D-Ala-D-Ala to D-Ala-D-Lac).

Epoxidestoggle arrow icon

Lipopeptidestoggle arrow icon

Dap-to-my-cin is good to my skin: daptomycin is used to treat skin infections.

Polymyxinstoggle arrow icon

Aminoglycosidestoggle arrow icon

Me and my NEw AMIgA are taking GENeral STEPs to AMeliorate our TOBacco intake but are still unsuccessful: NEomycin, AMIkAcin, GENtamicin, STrEPtomycin AMinoglycosides, and TOBramycin are unsuccessful in killing anaerobes.

Ah, MI(y) NEPHew's OTter keeps TERrorizing our block: the side effects of AMInoglycosides include NEPHrotoxicity, OTotoxicity, TERatogenicity, and neuromuscular blockade.

Tetracyclinestoggle arrow icon

Teethracyclines: teeth discoloration is a side effect of tetracyclines.

Glycylcyclinestoggle arrow icon

Macrolidestoggle arrow icon

Macroslides: macrolides inhibit translocation during protein synthesis, in which ribosomes slide along mRNA.

The adverse effects of MACROlides include gastrointestinal Motility issues, Arrhythmia (due to prolonged QT interval), acute Cholestatic hepatitis, Rash, and eOsinophilia.

Lincosamidestoggle arrow icon

Streptogramintoggle arrow icon

Oxazolidinonestoggle arrow icon

Amphenicolstoggle arrow icon

Fluoroquinolonestoggle arrow icon

Fluoroquinolones hurt the attachments to your bones.

Nitroimidazolestoggle arrow icon

Take the Metro To lonG BEaCH: Metronidazole treats Trichomonas, Giardia/Gardnerella, Bacteroides, Entamoeba, Clostridium, and H. pylori.

Sulfonamides and diaminopyrimidinetoggle arrow icon

TMP Treats Marrow Poorly.

ROCk, PAper, SCiSSors: the most important sulfa drugs are fuROsemide, (hydro)Chlorthalidone, Probenecid, Acetazolamide, Sulfamethoxazole/Sulfadiazine, Celecoxib, Sulfasalazine, and Sulfonylureas).

Nitrofuranstoggle arrow icon

Antimycobacterial drugstoggle arrow icon

See “Treatment” in “Tuberculosis.”

Rifamycinstoggle arrow icon

The 6Rs of Rifampin: Red or orange urine, RNA polymerase Repression, Ramping up of cytochrome P450 activity, and Rapid Resistance development if used alone.

Rifampin really amplifies (induces) cytochrome P450, but rifabutin does not.

Isoniazid (INH)toggle arrow icon

INH Is Not Healthy In Neurons and Hepatocytes.

Neurotoxicity may be prevented by supplementing with pyridoxine (vitamin B6).

Pyrazinamidetoggle arrow icon

Ethambutoltoggle arrow icon

EYEthambutol: Ethambutol causes optic neuropathy.

Dapsonetoggle arrow icon

Contraindicationstoggle arrow icon

Absolute contraindication Relative contraindication Safe to use
Pregnant women
Breastfeeding women
Individuals with renal failure
Individuals with hepatic failure

For SaFe Children, these Tablets are Contraindicated: Sulfonamides, Fluoroquinolones, Clarithromycin, Tetracyclines, and Chloramphenicol are contraindicated in children.

Cut the Tablets for your Child's SAFety: Chloramphenicol, Tetracyclines, Clarithromycin, Sulfonamides, Aminoglycosides, and Fluoroquinolones are contraindicated in pregnancy.

We list the most important contraindications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Additional considerationstoggle arrow icon

Empiric antibiotic therapy

Empiric antibiotic therapy covers the most probable causative organism(s) before the pattern of resistance and/or causative organism are known.


Choosing empiric antibiotic therapy

Target the most probable causative organism(s) but consider factors which might affect the success of usage of the chosen agent:

Other guiding principles

Blood cultures should be taken before initiating empiric antibiotic therapy.

Targeted antibiotic therapy

  • Targeted antibiotic therapy is chosen based on the results of culture and antibacterial sensitivity testing.
  • Aims to decrease the risk of treatment toxicity, prevent the development of antimicrobial resistance, and reduce the cost of the treatment
  • Usually employs narrow-spectrum agents to maximize efficacy and reduce the risk of side effects

Antibiotic prophylaxis

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Referencestoggle arrow icon

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