Antibiotic susceptibility and resistance in Neisseria meningitidis : phenotypic and genotypic characteristics

Abstract: Neisseria meningitidis, also known as the meningococcus, is a globally spread obligate human bacterium causing meningitis and/or septicaemia. It is responsible for epidemics in both developed and developing countries. Untreated invasive meningococcal disease is often fatal, and despite modern intensive care units, the mortality is still remarkably high (approximately 10%). The continuously increasing antibiotic resistance in many bacterial pathogens is a serious public health threat worldwide and there have been numerous reports of emerging resistance in meningococci during the past decades. In paper I, the gene linked to reduced susceptibility to penicillins, the penA gene, was examined. The totally reported variation in all published penA genes was described. The penA gene was highly variable (in total 130 variants were identified). By examination of clinical meningococcal isolates, the association between penA gene sequences and penicillin susceptibility could be determined. Isolates with reduced susceptibility displayed mosaic structures in the penA gene. Two closely positioned nucleotide polymorphisms were identified in all isolates with reduced penicillin susceptibility and mosaic structured penA genes. These alterations were absent in all susceptible isolates and were successfully used to detect reduced penicillin susceptibility by real-time PCR and pyrosequencing in paper II. In papers III and IV, antibiotic susceptibility and characteristics of Swedish and African meningitis belt meningococcal isolates were comprehensively described. Although both populations were mainly susceptible to the antibiotics used for treatment and prophylaxis, the proportion of meningococci with reduced penicillin susceptibility was slightly higher in Sweden. A large proportion of the African isolates was resistant to tetracycline and erythromycin. In paper V, the gene linked to rifampicin resistance, the rpoB gene, was examined in meningococci from 12 mainly European countries. Alterations of three amino acids in the RpoB protein were found to always and directly lead to rifampicin resistance. A new breakpoint for rifampicin resistance in meningococci was suggested. The biological cost of the RpoB alterations was investigated in mice. The pathogenicity/virulence was significantly lower in rifampicin resistant mutants as compared with susceptible wild-type bacteria.