The widespread presence of plasmid-mediated quinolone resistance determinants, particularly qnr genes, has become a current issue. By protecting DNA-gyrase from quinolones, Qnr proteins confer a low level quinolone resistance that is not sufficient to explain their emergence. Since Qnr proteins were hypothesized to act as DNA-binding protein regulators, qnr genes could have emerged by providing a selective advantage other than antibiotic resistance. We investigated host fitness of Escherichia coli isogenic strains after acquisition of the qnrA3 gene, inserted either alone onto a small plasmid (pBR322), or harbored on a large conjugative native plasmid, pHe96(qnrA3) found in a clinical isolate. The isogenic strains were derived from the susceptible E. coli CFT073, a virulent B2 group strain known to infect bladder and kidneys in a mouse model of pyelonephritis. In vitro experiments included growth analysis by automatic spectrophotometry and flow cytometry, and competitions with CFU enumeration. In vivo experiments included infection with each strain and pairwise competitions in absence of antimicrobial exposure. As controls for our experiments we used mutations known to reduce fitness (rpsL K42N mutation) or to enhance fitness (tetA deletion in pBR322). E. coli CFT073 transformed with pBRAM(PBR322-qnrA3) had significantly higher maximal OD than E. coli CFT073 transformed with pBR322 or pBR322ΔtetA, and in vivo competitions were more often won by the qnrA3 carrying strain (24 victories vs. 9 loss among 42 competitions, p = 0.001). In contrast, when pHe96(qnrA3) was introduced by conjugation in E. coli CFT073, it exerted a fitness cost shown by an impaired growth observed in vitro and in vivo and a majority of lost competitions (33/35, p<0.0001). In conclusion, qnrA3 acquisition enhanced bacterial fitness, which may explain qnr emergence and suggests a regulation role of qnr. However, fitness was reduced when qnrA3 was inserted onto multidrug-resistant plasmids and this can slow down its dissemination without antibiotic exposure
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.