Study finds new patterns of antibiotic resistance spread in
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales (CRE) are an urgent global health threat. Inferring the dynamics of local CRE dissemination is currently limited by our inability to confidently trace the spread of resistance determinants to unrelated bacterial hosts. Whole-genome sequence comparison is useful for identifying CRE clonal transmission and outbreaks, but high-frequency horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of carbapenem resistance genes and subsequent genome rearrangement complicate tracing the local persistence and mobilization of these genes across organisms.

Researchers developed a new approach to identify recent HGT of large, near-identical plasmid segments across species boundaries, which also allowed us to overcome technical challenges with genome assembly. We applied this to complete and near-complete genome assemblies to examine the local spread of CRE in a systematic, prospective collection of all CRE, as well as time- and species-matched carbapenem-susceptible Enterobacterales, isolated from patients from four US hospitals over nearly 5 years.

The CRE collection comprised a diverse range of species, lineages, and carbapenem resistance mechanisms, many of which were encoded on a variety of promiscuous plasmid types. We found and quantified rearrangement, persistence, and repeated transfer of plasmid segments, including those harboring carbapenemases, between organisms over multiple years. Some plasmid segments were found to be strongly associated with specific locales, thus representing geographic signatures that make it possible to trace recent and localized HGT events. Functional analysis of these signatures revealed genes commonly found in plasmids of nosocomial pathogens, such as functions required for plasmid retention and spread, as well survival against a variety of antibiotic and antiseptics common to the hospital environment.

Source: https://genomemedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13073-022-01040-y
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