Low nutrient levels as drinking water conditions can reduce the fitness cost of efflux pump-mediated ciprofloxacin resistance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Wenfang Lin , Kun Wan , Jie Zeng , Jingjing Li , Xi Li , Xin Yu


Received November 07, 2018,Revised , Accepted March 26, 2019, Available online April 01, 2019

Volume 31,2019,Pages 123-132

The long-term persistence of antibiotic resistance in the environment, especially in drinking water, is a public health concern. Expression of an efflux pump, an important mechanism of resistance to antibiotics, usually confers a fitness cost in bacteria. In this study, we aimed to determine why antibiotic resistance conferred by overexpression of an efflux pump persisted in low-nutrient environments (TOC < 10 mg/L) such as drinking and source water in which antibiotic selective pressure might be very low or even absent. Competition experiments between wild-type Pseudomonas aeruginosa and ciprofloxacin-resistant mutants revealed that the fitness cost of ciprofloxacin resistance significantly decreased (p < 0.05) under low-nutrient (0.5 mg/L total organic carbon (TOC)) relative to high-nutrient (500 mg/L TOC) conditions. Mechanisms underlying this fitness cost were analyzed. The mexD gene expression in resistant bacteria (cip_3 strain) was significantly lower (p < 0.05) in low-nutrient conditions, with 10 mg/L TOC ((8.01 ± 0.82)-fold), than in high-nutrient conditions, with 500 mg/L TOC ((48.89 ± 4.16)-fold). Moreover, rpoS gene expression in resistant bacteria ((1.36 ± 0.13)-fold) was significantly lower (p < 0.05) than that in the wild-type strain ((2.78 ± 0.29)-fold) under low-nutrient conditions (10 mg/L TOC), suggesting a growth advantage. Furthermore, the difference in metabolic activity between the two competing strains was significantly smaller (p < 0.05) in low-nutrient conditions (5 and 0.5 mg/L TOC). These results suggest that nutrient levels are a key factor in determining the persistence of antibiotic resistance conferred by efflux pumps in the natural environment with trace amounts or no antibiotics.

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