Global transmission of extended-spectrum cephalosporin resistance in Escherichia coli driven by epidemic plasmids

Roxana Zamudio, Patrick Boerlin, Michael R. Mulvey, Marisa Haenni, Racha Beyrouthy, Jean-Yves Madec, Stefan Schwarz, Ashley Cormier, Gabhan Chalmers, Richard Bonnet, George G. Zhanel, Heike Kaspar, Alison E. Mather

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Background: Extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs) are third and fourth generation cephalosporin antimicrobials used in humans and animals to treat infections due to multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria. Resistance to ESCs (ESC-R) in Enterobacterales is predominantly due to the production of extended-spectrum β-lactamases (ESBLs) and plasmid-mediated AmpC β-lactamases (AmpCs). The dynamics of ESBLs and AmpCs are changing across countries and host species, the result of global transmission of ESC-R genes. Plasmids are known to play a key role in this dissemination, but the relative importance of different types of plasmids is not fully understood. Methods: In this study, Escherichia coli with the major ESC-R genes bla CTX-M-1, bla CTX-M-15, bla CTX-M-14 (ESBLs) and bla CMY-2 (AmpC), were selected from diverse host species and other sources across Canada, France and Germany, collected between 2003 and 2017. To examine in detail the vehicles of transmission of the ESC-R genes, long- and short-read sequences were generated to obtain complete contiguous chromosome and plasmid sequences (n = 192 ESC-R E. coli). The types, gene composition and genetic relatedness of these plasmids were investigated, along with association with isolate year, source and geographical origin, and put in context with publicly available plasmid sequences. Findings: We identified five epidemic resistance plasmid subtypes with distinct genetic properties that are associated with the global dissemination of ESC-R genes across multiple E. coli lineages and host species. The IncI1 pST3 bla CTX-M-1 plasmid subtype was found in more diverse sources than the other main plasmid subtypes, whereas IncI1 pST12 bla CMY-2 was more frequent in Canadian and German human and chicken isolates. Clonal expansion also contributed to the dissemination of the IncI1 pST12 bla CMY-2 plasmid in ST131 and ST117 E. coli harbouring this plasmid. The IncI1 pST2 bla CMY-2 subtype was predominant in isolates from humans in France, while the IncF F31:A4:B1 bla CTX-M-15 and F2:A-:B- bla CTX-M-14 plasmid subtypes were frequent in human and cattle isolates across multiple countries. Beyond their epidemic nature with respect to ESC-R genes, in our collection almost all IncI1 pST3 bla CTX-M-1 and IncF F31:A4:B1 bla CTX-M-15 epidemic plasmids also carried multiple antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes conferring resistance to other antimicrobial classes. Finally, we found genetic signatures in the regions surrounding specific ESC-R genes, identifying the predominant mechanisms of ESC-R gene movement, and using publicly available databases, we identified these epidemic plasmids from widespread bacterial species, host species, countries and continents. Interpretation: We provide evidence that epidemic resistance plasmid subtypes contribute to the global dissemination of ESC-R genes, and in addition, some of these epidemic plasmids confer resistance to multiple other antimicrobial classes. The success of these plasmids suggests that they may have a fitness advantage over other plasmid types and subtypes. Identification and understanding of the vehicles of AMR transmission are crucial to develop and target strategies and interventions to reduce the spread of AMR. Funding: This project was supported by the (Theme 1, Epidemiology and Evolution of Pathogens in the Food Chain).

Original languageEnglish
Article number105097
Early online date11 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024


  • AmpC
  • AMR
  • Epidemic plasmid
  • ESBL
  • Escherichia coli
  • Whole genome sequencing

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