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Journal Article

The genomic basis of rapid adaptation to antibiotic combination therapy in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

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Schulenburg,  Hinrich
Max Planck Fellow Group Antibiotic Resistance Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Barbosa, C., Mahrt, N., Bunk, J., Graßer, M., Rosenstiel, P., Jansen, G., et al. (2020). The genomic basis of rapid adaptation to antibiotic combination therapy in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Molecular Biology and Evolution, msaa233. doi:10.1093/molbev/msaa233.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-AD67-3
Abstract
Combination therapy is a common antibiotic treatment strategy that aims at minimizing the risk of resistance evolution in several infectious diseases. Nonetheless, evidence supporting its efficacy against the nosocomial opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa remains elusive. Identification of the possible evolutionary paths to resistance in multidrug environments can help to explain treatment outcome. For this purpose, we here performed whole-genome sequencing of 127 previously evolved populations of P. aeruginosa adapted to sublethal doses of distinct antibiotic combinations and corresponding single-drug treatments, and experimentally characterized several of the identified variants. We found that alterations in the regulation of efflux pumps are the most favored mechanism of resistance, regardless of the environment. Unexpectedly, we repeatedly identified intergenic variants in the adapted populations, often with no additional mutations and usually associated with genes involved in efflux pump expression, possibly indicating a regulatory function of the intergenic regions. The experimental analysis of these variants demonstrated that the intergenic changes caused similar increases in resistance against single and multidrug treatments as those seen for efflux regulatory gene mutants. Surprisingly, we could find no substantial fitness costs for a majority of these variants, most likely enhancing their competitiveness toward sensitive cells, even in antibiotic-free environments. We conclude that the regulation of efflux is a central target of antibiotic-mediated selection in P. aeruginosa and that, importantly, changes in intergenic regions may represent a usually neglected alternative process underlying bacterial resistance evolution, which clearly deserves further attention in the future.