Gentamicin is an aminoglycoside antibiotic, used to treat many types of bacterial infections, particularly those caused by Gram-negative organisms. However, gentamicin is not used for Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Neisseria meningitidis or Legionella pneumophila. Gentamicin is also ototoxic and nephrotoxic, with this toxicity remaining a major problem in clinical use.
It is synthesized by Micromonospora, a genus of Gram-positive bacteria widely present in the environment (water and soil). To highlight their specific biological origins, gentamicin and other related antibiotics produced by this genus (verdamicin, mutamicin, sisomicin, netilmicin, retymicin) generally have their spellings ending in ~micin and not in ~mycin. Gentamicin is a bactericidal antibiotic that works by binding the 30S subunit of the bacterial ribosome, interrupting protein synthesis.
Like all aminoglycosides, when gentamicin is given orally, it is not systemically active. This is because it is not absorbed to any appreciable extent from the small intestine. It is administered intravenously, intramuscularly or topically to treat infections. It appears to be completely eliminated unchanged in the urine. Urine must be collected for many days to recover all of a given dose because the drug binds avidly to certain tissues.
E. coli has shown some resistance to gentamicin, despite being Gram-negative. Reluctance to use gentamicin for empirical therapy has led to increased use of alternative broad-spectrum antibiotics, which some experts suggest has led to the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections by Golden Staph and other so-called "superbugs".