Mechanisms and Dynamics of Carbapenem Resistance in Escherichia coli
Abstract: The emergence of extended spectrum ?-lactamase (ESBL) producing Enterobacteriaceae worldwide has led to an increased use of carbapenems and may drive the development of carbapenem resistance. Existing mechanisms are mainly due to acquired carbapenemases or the combination of ESBL-production and reduced outer membrane permeability. The focus of this thesis was to study the development of carbapenem resistance in Escherichia coli in the presence and absence of acquired ?-lactamases. To this end we used the resistance plasmid pUUH239.2 that caused the first major outbreak of ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae in Scandinavia.Spontaneous carbapenem resistance was strongly favoured by the presence of the ESBL-encoding plasmid and different mutational spectra and resistance levels arose for different carbapenems. Mainly, loss of function mutations in the regulators of porin expression caused reduced influx of antibiotic into the cell and in combination with amplification of ?-lactamase genes on the plasmid this led to high resistance levels. We further used a pharmacokinetic model, mimicking antibiotic concentrations found in patients during treatment, to test whether ertapenem resistant populations could be selected even at these concentrations. We found that resistant mutants only arose for the ESBL-producing strain and that an increased dosage of ertapenem could not prevent selection of these resistant subpopulations. In another study we saw that carbapenem resistance can even develop in the absence of ESBL-production. We found mutants in export pumps and the antibiotic targets to give high level resistance albeit with high fitness costs in the absence of antibiotics. In the last study, we used selective amplification of ?-lactamases on the pUUH239.2 plasmid by carbapenems to determine the cost and stability of gene amplifications. Using mathematical modelling we determined the likelihood of evolution of new gene functions in this region. The high cost and instability of the amplified state makes de novo evolution very improbable, but constant selection of the amplified state may balance these factors until rare mutations can establish a new function.In my studies I observed the influence of ?-lactamases on carbapenem resistance and saw that amplification of these genes would further contribute to resistance. The rapid disappearance of amplified arrays of resistance genes in the absence of antibiotic selection may lead to the underestimation of gene amplification as clinical resistance mechanism. Amplification of ?-lactamase genes is an important stepping-stone and might lead to the evolution of new resistance genes.
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