Clonal confinement of a highly mobile resistance element driven by combination therapy in Rhodococcus equi

Sonsiray Alvarez-Narváez, Steeve Giguère, Elisa Anastasi, Jack Hearn, Mariela Scortti, Jose Vazquez-Boland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Antibiotic use has been linked to changes in the population structure of human pathogens and the clonal expansion of multidrug-resistant (MDR) strains among healthcare- and community-acquired infections. Here we present a compelling example in a veterinary pathogen, Rhodococcus equi, the causative agent of a severe pulmonary infection affecting foals worldwide. We show that the erm(46) gene responsible for emerging macrolide resistance among equine R. equi isolates in the United States is part of a 6.9-kb transposable element, TnRErm46, actively mobilized by an IS481 family transposase. TnRErm46 is carried on an 87-kb conjugative plasmid, pRErm46, transferable between R. equi strains at frequencies up to 10−3. The erm(46) gene becomes stabilized in R. equi by pRErm46’s apparent fitness neutrality and wholesale TnRErm46 transposition onto the host genome. This includes the conjugally exchangeable pVAPA virulence plasmid, enabling the possibility of cotransfer of two essential traits for survival in macrolide-treated foals in a single mating event. Despite its high horizontal transfer potential, phylogenomic analyses show that erm(46) is paradoxically confined to a specific R. equi clone, 2287. R. equi 2287 also carries a unique rpoBS531F mutation conferring high-level resistance to rifampin, systematically administered together with macrolides against rhodococcal pneumonia on equine farms. Our data illustrate that under sustained combination therapy, several independent “founder” genetic events are concurrently required for resistance, limiting not only its emergence but also, crucially, horizontal spread, ultimately determining multiresistance clonality.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02260-19
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


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