Evolved aztreonam resistance is multifactorial and can produce hypervirulence in pseudomonas aeruginosa

Peter Jorth, Kathryn McLean, Anina Ratjen, Patrick R. Secor, Gilbert E. Bautista, Sumedha Ravishankar, Amir Rezayat, Jayanthi Garudathri, Joe J. Harrison, Rachel A. Harwood, Kelsi Penewit, Adam Waalkes, Pradeep K. Singh, Stephen J. Salipante

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


While much attention has been focused on acquired antibiotic resistance genes, chromosomal mutations may be most important in chronic infections where isolated, persistently infecting lineages experience repeated antibiotic exposure. Here, we used experimental evolution and whole-genome sequencing to investigate chromosomally encoded mutations causing aztreonam resistance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and characterized the secondary consequences of resistance development. We identified 19 recurrently mutated genes associated with aztreonam resistance. The most frequently observed mutations affected negative transcriptional regulators of the mexAB-oprM efflux system and the target of aztreonam, ftsI. While individual mutations conferred modest resistance gains, high-level resistance (1,024 μg/ml) was achieved through the accumulation of multiple variants. Despite being largely stable when strains were passaged in the absence of antibiotics, aztreonam resistance was associated with decreased in vitro growth rates, indicating an associated fitness cost. In some instances, evolved aztreonam-resistant strains exhibited increased resistance to structurally unrelated antipseudomonal antibiotics. Surprisingly, strains carrying evolved mutations which affected negative regulators of mexAB-oprM (mexR and nalD) demonstrated enhanced virulence in a murine pneumonia infection model. Mutations in these genes, and other genes that we associated with aztreonam resistance, were common in P. aeruginosa isolates from chronically infected patients with cystic fibrosis. These findings illuminate mechanisms of P. aeruginosa aztreonam resistance and raise the possibility that antibiotic treatment could inadvertently select for hypervirulence phenotypes. IMPORTANCE Inhaled aztreonam is a relatively new antibiotic which is being increasingly used to treat cystic fibrosis patients with Pseudomonas aeruginosa airway infections. As for all antimicrobial agents, bacteria can evolve resistance that decreases the effectiveness of the drug; however, the mechanisms and consequences of aztreonam resistance are incompletely understood. Here, using experimental evolution, we have cataloged spontaneous mutations conferring aztreonam resistance and have explored their effects. We found that a diverse collection of genes contributes to aztreonam resistance, each with a small but cumulative effect. Surprisingly, we found that selection for aztreonam resistance mutations could confer increased resistance to other antibiotics and promote hypervirulence in a mouse infection model. Our study reveals inherent mechanisms of aztreonam resistance and indicates that aztreonam exposure can have unintended secondary effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00517-17
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Aztreonam
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Fitness
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Selection
  • Virulence
  • Whole-genome sequencing


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