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Authors: Honsa, Erin S and Cooper, Vaughn S and Mhaissen, Mohammed N and Frank, Matthew and Shaker, Jessica and Iverson, Amy and Rubnitz, Jeffrey and Hayden, Randall T and Lee, Richard E and Rock, Charles O and Tuomanen, Elaine I and Wolf, Joshua and Rosch, Jason W

Serious bacterial infections in immunocompromised patients require highly effective antibacterial therapy for cure, and thus, this setting may reveal novel mechanisms by which bacteria circumvent antibiotics in the absence of immune pressure. Here, an infant with leukemia developed vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE) bacteremia that persisted for 26 days despite appropriate antibiotic therapy. Sequencing of 22 consecutive VRE isolates identified the emergence of a single missense mutation (L152F) in relA, which constitutively activated the stringent response, resulting in elevated baseline levels of the alarmone guanosine tetraphosphate (ppGpp). Although the mutant remained susceptible to both linezolid and daptomycin in clinical MIC testing and during planktonic growth, it demonstrated tolerance to high doses of both antibiotics when growing in a biofilm. This biofilm-specific gain in resistance was reflected in the broad shift in transcript levels caused by the mutation. Only an experimental biofilm-targeting ClpP-activating antibiotic was able to kill the mutant strain in an established biofilm. The relA mutation was associated with a fitness trade-off, forming smaller and less-well-populated biofilms on biological surfaces. We conclude that clinically relevant relA mutations can emerge during prolonged VRE infection, causing baseline activation of the stringent response, subsequent antibiotic tolerance, and delayed eradication in an immunocompromised state.The increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens is a major challenge currently facing the medical community. Such pathogens are of particular importance in immunocompromised patients as these individuals may favor emergence of novel resistance determinants due to lack of innate immune defenses and intensive antibiotic exposure. During the course of chemotherapy, a patient developed prolonged bacteremia with vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium that failed to clear despite multiple front-line antibiotics. The consecutive bloodstream isolates were sequenced, and a single missense mutation identified in the relA gene, the mediator of the stringent response. Strains harboring the mutation had elevated baseline levels of the alarmone and displayed heightened resistance to the bactericidal activity of multiple antibiotics, particularly in a biofilm. Using a new class of compounds that modulate ClpP activity, the biofilms were successfully eradicated. These data represent the first clinical emergence of mutations in the stringent response in vancomycin-resistant entereococci. Copyright © 2017 Honsa et al.

Journal: mBio
DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02124-16
Year: 2017

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