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Co-Transfer of Resistance to High Concentrations of Copper and First-Line Antibiotics Among Enterococcus From Different Origins (Humans, Animals, the Environment and Foods) and Clonal Lineages

Objectives: We studied the occurrence of diverse copper (Cu) tolerance genes from Gram-positive bacteria and their co-transfer with antibiotic resistance genes among Enterococcus from diverse sources.

Methods:  Enterococcus (n = 922) of several species and from human, animal, environment and food samples were included. Antimicrobial and CuSO4 susceptibility and conjugation assays were performed by standard procedures, bacterial screening of Cu and antibiotic resistance genes by PCR, and clonality by PFGE/multilocus sequence typing.

Results:  tcrB and cueO genes occurred in 15% (n = 137/922) and 14% (n = 128/922) of isolates, respectively, with the highest occurrence in piggeries (P < 0.05). They were more frequent among Enterococcus faecium (tcrB: 23% versus 8% in Enterococcus faecalis and 12% in other species; cueO: 25% versus 5% and 9%, respectively; P < 0.05).

A correlation between phenotypic and genotypic assays was observed for most E. faecium (CuSO4 MIC50 = 24 mM in tcrB/cueO+ versus CuSO4 MIC50 = 12 mM in tcrB/cueO), but not for other species. Co-transfer of Cu tolerance (associated with tcrB, cueO or an unknown mechanism) with erythromycin, tetracycline, vancomycin, aminoglycosides or ampicillin resistance was demonstrated.

A variety of PFGE types was detected among isolates carrying Cu tolerance mechanisms, some identified in sequence types (STs) often linked to human infections (E. faecium from ST18 and ST78 clonal lineages and E. faecalis clonal complex 2).

Conclusions:  Cu tolerance might contribute to the selection/maintenance of multidrug-resistant Enterococcus (including resistance to first-line antibiotics used to treat enterococcal infections) due to the use of Cu compounds (e.g. antiseptics/animal feed supplements). The distribution of the multicopper oxidase cueO and the co-transfer of ampicillin resistance along with Cu tolerance genes are described for the first time.

Author: Silveira E, Freitas AR, Antunes P, Barros M, Campos J, Coque TM, Peixe L, Novais C

Citation: Journal of Antimicrob Chemother. 2014 Apr;69(4):899-906. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkt479

Published: 15/12/2013

Publication Type: Journal article

Publisher: Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy