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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Aug 14;98(17):9865-70. Epub 2001 Jul 31.

The evolution of methicillin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus: similarity of genetic backgrounds in historically early methicillin-susceptible and -resistant isolates and contemporary epidemic clones.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal.


The key genetic component of methicillin resistance, the mecA determinant, is not native to Staphylococcus aureus. Thus, the evolution of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) must have begun with the acquisition of the mecA determinant from an unknown heterologous source some time before the first reported appearance of MRSA isolates in clinical specimens in the U.K. and Denmark (in the early 1960s). We compared the genetic backgrounds and phenotypes of a group of methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) isolates to the properties of MRSA strains isolated in Denmark and the U.K. during the same time period, and also to the genetic profiles of contemporary epidemic clones of MRSA. All early MRSA isolates resembled a large group of the early MSSA blood isolates in phenotypic and genetic properties, including phage group, antibiotype (resistance to penicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline), pulsed-field gel electrophoresis pattern, and spaA type and multilocus sequence type, strongly suggesting that the early MSSA examined here represented the progeny of a strain that served as one of the first S. aureus recipients of the methicillin-resistance determinant in Europe. The genetic background of this group of early MSSA isolates was also very similar to that of the widely disseminated contemporary "Iberian clone" of MRSA, suggesting that genetic determinants present in early MSSA and essential for some aspects of the epidemicity and/or virulence of these strains may have been retained by this highly successful contemporary MRSA lineage.

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