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J Antimicrob Chemother. 2002 Aug;50(2):161-9.

Insertional inactivation of mutS in Staphylococcus aureus reveals potential for elevated mutation frequencies, although the prevalence of mutators in clinical isolates is low.

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Antimicrobial Research Centre and Division of Microbiology, School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.


Populations defective in mismatch repair that exhibit elevated mutation frequencies to antibiotic resistance have been reported amongst pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria. Whether such mutators occur widely in clinical isolates of Gram-positive species, and in important pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, is unknown. Insertional inactivation of the mutS gene of S. aureus RN4220 by targeted plasmid integration produced a strain with mutation frequencies for antibiotic resistance up to 78-fold greater than those exhibited by RN4220, thereby providing proof of the concept that staphylococcal mutators could arise. Subsequently, 493 clinical S. aureus isolates were examined for the presence of mutators. However, no strain exhibited a > or =10-fold increase in mutation frequency compared with laboratory strain 8325-4. Detailed phenotypic and genotypic analysis of vancomycin-intermediate S. aureus strain Mu50 was performed, since the published genome sequence of this organism suggests that mutS is inactive as a result of a frameshift. However, elevated mutation frequencies were not observed in Mu50, and re-sequencing of a portion of mutS from this strain indicated that this gene was intact. Transient increases in mutation frequency during the stationary phase of growth occur in other bacteria, although no such increases were observed in S. aureus. We conclude that neither permanent increases in the basal mutation frequency, nor transient increases in mutation frequency under starvation, are likely to play a significant role in the development of antibiotic resistance in S. aureus.

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