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Ceragenins are a family of synthetic amphipathic molecules designed to mimic the properties of naturally-occurring cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs). Although ceragenins have potent antimicrobial activity, whether their mode of action is similar to that of CAMPs has remained elusive. Here we report the results of a comparative study of the bacterial responses to two well-studied CAMPs, LL37 and colistin, and two ceragenins with related structures, CSA13 and CSA131. Using transcriptomic and proteomic analyses, we found that Escherichia coli responds similarly to both CAMPs and ceragenins by inducing a Cpx envelope stress response. However, whereas E. coli exposed to CAMPs increased expression of genes involved in colanic acid biosynthesis, bacteria exposed to ceragenins specifically modulated functions related to phosphate transport, indicating distinct mechanisms of action between these two classes of molecules. Although traditional genetic approaches failed to identify genes that confer high-level resistance to ceragenins, using a Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats interference (CRISPRi) approach we identified E. coli essential genes that when knocked down modify sensitivity to these molecules. Comparison of the essential gene-antibiotic interactions for each of the CAMPs and ceragenins identified both overlapping and distinct dependencies for their antimicrobial activities. Overall, this study indicates that while some bacterial responses to ceragenins overlap with those induced by naturally-occurring CAMPs, these synthetic molecules target the bacterial envelope using a distinctive mode of action. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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