The Mechanism of Heterogeneous Beta-Lactam Resistance in MRSA: Key Role of the Stringent Stress Response

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Abstract

All methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains carry an acquired genetic determinant - mecA or mecC - which encode for a low affinity penicillin binding protein - PBP2A or PBP2A' - that can continue the catalysis of peptidoglycan transpeptidation in the presence of high concentrations of beta-lactam antibiotics which would inhibit the native PBPs normally involved with the synthesis of staphylococcal cell wall peptidoglycan. In contrast to this common genetic and biochemical mechanism carried by all MRSA strains, the level of beta-lactam antibiotic resistance shows a very wide strain to strain variation, the mechanism of which has remained poorly understood. The overwhelming majority of MRSA strains produce a unique - heterogeneous - phenotype in which the great majority of the bacteria exhibit very poor resistance often close to the MIC value of susceptible S. aureus strains. However, cultures of such heterogeneously resistant MRSA strains also contain subpopulations of bacteria with extremely high beta-lactam MIC values and the resistance level and frequency of the highly resistant cells in such strain is a characteristic of the particular MRSA clone. In the study described in this communication, we used a variety of experimental models to understand the mechanism of heterogeneous beta-lactam resistance. Methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) that received the mecA determinant in the laboratory either on a plasmid or in the form of a chromosomal SCCmec cassette, generated heterogeneously resistant cultures and the highly resistant subpopulations that emerged in these models had increased levels of PBP2A and were composed of bacteria in which the stringent stress response was induced. Each of the major heterogeneously resistant clones of MRSA clinical isolates could be converted to express high level and homogeneous resistance if the growth medium contained an inducer of the stringent stress response.
Original languageUnknown
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

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