Staphylococcus aureus is a significant human pathogen whose evolution and adaptation has been shaped in part by mobile genetic elements (MGEs), facilitating global spread of extensive antimicrobial resistance. However, our understanding of the evolutionary dynamics surrounding MGEs is incomplete, in particular how changes in the structure of multidrug-resistant (MDR) plasmids may influence important staphylococcal phenotypes. Here, we undertook a population- and functional-genomics study of 212 methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) ST239 isolates collected over 32 years to explore the evolution of the pSK1 family of MDR plasmids; illustrating how these plasmids have co-evolved with and contributed to the successful adaptation of this persistent MRSA lineage. Using complete genomes and temporal phylogenomics we reconstructed the evolution of the pSK1 family lineage from its emergence in the late 1970s, with multiple structural variants arising. Plasmid maintenance and stability was linked to IS256- and IS257-mediated chromosomal integration and disruption of plasmid replication machinery. Overlaying genomic comparisons with phenotypic susceptibility data for gentamicin, trimethoprim and chlorhexidine, it appeared that pSK1 has contributed to enhanced resistance in ST239 MRSA through two mechanisms: (i) acquisition of plasmid-borne resistance mechanisms increasing rates of gentamicin resistance and reduced chlorhexidine susceptibility, and (ii) changes in plasmid configuration linked with further enhancement of chlorhexidine tolerance. While the exact mechanism of enhanced tolerance remains elusive, this research has uncovered a potential evolutionary response of ST239 MRSA to biocides, one which may contribute to the ongoing persistence and adaptation of this lineage within healthcare institutions. Copyright © 2019 Baines et al.
Journal: Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy