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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2009 Oct;53(10):4345-51. doi: 10.1128/AAC.01267-08. Epub 2009 Jul 27.

Involvement of pmrAB and phoPQ in polymyxin B adaptation and inducible resistance in non-cystic fibrosis clinical isolates of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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Centre for Microbial Diseases & Immunity Research, University of British Columbia, 2259 Lower Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


During investigation of susceptibility testing methods for polymyxins, 24 multidrug-resistant clinical isolates of Pseudomonas aeruginosa were observed to have a distinct, reproducible phenotype in which skipped wells were observed during broth microdilution testing for polymyxin B. Possible mechanisms underlying this phenotype were investigated. The effects of various concentrations of polymyxin B on growth, the expression of resistance genes, and outer-membrane permeability were observed. Real-time PCR was performed to compare the expression, in response to selected concentrations of polymyxin B, of genes related to the PhoP-PhoQ and PmrA-PmrB two-component regulatory systems in polymyxin B-susceptible isolate PAO1, polymyxin B-resistant isolate 9BR, and two isolates (19BR and 213BR) exhibiting the skipped-well phenotype. 19BR and 213BR appeared to have similar basal levels of expression compared to that of PAO1 for phoQ, arnB, and PA4773 (from the pmrAB operon), and in contrast, 9BR had 52- and 280-fold higher expression of arnB and PA4773, respectively. The expression of arnB and PA4773 increased in response to polymyxin B in a concentration-dependent manner for 9BR but not for 19BR and 213BR. For these isolates, expression was significantly increased for arnB and PA4773, as well as phoQ, only upon exposure to 2 mug/ml polymyxin B but not at a lower concentration of 0.125 microg/ml. The sequencing of the pmrAB and phoPQ operons for all three isolates revealed a number of unique mutations compared to that for PAO1. 1-N-phenylnaphthylamine (NPN) was used to study the effect of preincubation with polymyxin B on the self-promoted uptake of polymyxin B across the outer membrane. The preincubation of cells with 2 microg/ml polymyxin B affected baseline membrane permeability in 19BR and 213BR and also resulted in a reduced rate of NPN uptake in these isolates and in PAO1 but not in 9BR. The results presented here suggest that the skipped-well isolates have the ability to adapt to specific concentrations of polymyxin B, inducing known polymyxin B resistance genes involved in generating alterations in the outer membrane.

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