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Virulence. 2012 Jan-Feb;3(1):18-28. doi: 10.4161/viru.3.1.18382. Epub 2012 Jan 1.

Association between antimicrobial resistance and virulence in Escherichia coli.

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  • 1Laboratory of Microbiology and Center of Pharmaceutical Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal. gjsilva@ci.uc.pt


Escherichia coli represents a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The treatment of E. coli infections is now threatened by the emergence of antimicrobial resistance. The dissemination of resistance is associated with genetic mobile elements, such as plasmids, that may also carry virulence determinants. A proficient pathogen should be virulent, resistant to antibiotics, and epidemic. However, the interplay between resistance and virulence is poorly understood. This review aims to critically discuss the association and linked transmission of both resistance and virulence traits in strains from extraintestinal infections in E. coli, and intestinal pathotypes. Despite the numerous controversies on this topic, findings from research published to date indicate that there is a link between resistance and virulence, as illustrated by the successful E. coli ST131 epidemic clone. Perhaps the most commonly accepted view is that resistance to quinolones is linked to a loss of virulence factors. However, the low virulent phylogenetic groups might be more prone to acquire resistance to quinolones. Specific characteristics of the E. coli genome that have yet to be identified may contribute to such genetic linkages. Research based on bacterial populations is sorely needed to help understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the association between resistance and virulence, that, in turn, may help manage the future disseminations of infectious diseases in their entirety.

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