The rapid dissemination of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) around the globe is largely due to mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids. They confer resistance to critically important drugs, including extended-spectrum beta-lactams, carbapenems, and colistin. Large, complex resistance plasmids have evolved alongside their host bacteria. However, much of the research on plasmid-host evolution has focused on small, simple laboratory plasmids in laboratory-adapted bacterial hosts. These and other studies have documented mutations in both host and plasmid genes which occur after plasmid introduction to ameliorate fitness costs of plasmid carriage. We describe here the impact of two naturally occurring variants of a large AMR plasmid (pKpQIL) on a globally successful pathogen. In our study, after pKpQIL plasmid introduction, no changes in coding domain sequences were observed in their natural host, Klebsiella pneumoniae. However, significant changes in chromosomal and plasmid gene expression may have allowed the bacterium to adapt to the acquisition of the AMR plasmid. We hypothesize that this was sufficient to ameliorate the associated fitness costs of plasmid carriage, as pKpQIL plasmids were maintained without selection pressure. The dogma that removal of selection pressure (e.g., antimicrobial exposure) results in plasmid loss due to bacterial fitness costs is not true for all plasmid/host combinations. We also show that pKpQIL impacted the ability of K. pneumoniae to form a biofilm, an important aspect of virulence. This study used highly relevant models to study the interaction between AMR plasmids and pathogens and revealed striking differences from results of studies done on laboratory-adapted plasmids and strains.
- Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC)