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Nat Commun. 2015 Oct 30;6:8773. doi: 10.1038/ncomms9773.

Microscale insights into pneumococcal antibiotic mutant selection windows.

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Molecular Genetics Group, Groningen Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology Institute, Centre for Synthetic Biology, University of Groningen, Nijenborgh 7, Groningen 9747 AG, The Netherlands.


The human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae shows alarming rates of antibiotic resistance emergence. The basic requirements for de novo resistance emergence are poorly understood in the pneumococcus. Here we systematically analyse the impact of antibiotics on S. pneumoniae at concentrations that inhibit wild type cells, that is, within the mutant selection window. We identify discrete growth-inhibition profiles for bacteriostatic and bactericidal compounds, providing a predictive framework for distinction between the two classifications. Cells treated with bacteriostatic agents show continued gene expression activity, and real-time mutation assays link this activity to the development of genotypic resistance. Time-lapse microscopy reveals that antibiotic-susceptible pneumococci display remarkable growth and death bistability patterns in response to many antibiotics. We furthermore capture the rise of subpopulations with decreased susceptibility towards cell wall synthesis inhibitors (heteroresisters). We show that this phenomenon is epigenetically inherited, and that heteroresistance potentiates the accumulation of genotypic resistance.

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