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Yale J Biol Med. 2017 Jun 23;90(2):269-281. eCollection 2017 Jun.

Vancomycin Resistance in Staphylococcus aureus

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Laboratory of Bacteriology, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, MT.


The evolution of Staphylococcus aureus during the modern antibiotic era has been delineated by distinct strain emergence events, many of which include acquisition of antibiotic resistance. The relative high burden of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) in healthcare and community settings is a major concern worldwide. Vancomycin, a glycopeptide antibiotic that inhibits cell wall biosynthesis, remains a drug of choice for treatment of severe MRSA infections. S. aureus strains exhibiting increased resistance to vancomycin, known as vancomycin intermediate-resistant S. aureus (VISA) (MIC = 4-8 µg/mL), were discovered in the 1990s. The molecular basis of resistance in VISA is polygenic and involves stepwise mutations in genes encoding molecules predominantly involved in cell envelope biosynthesis. S. aureus isolates with complete resistance to vancomycin (MIC ≥ 16 µg/mL) are termed vancomycin-resistant S. aureus (VRSA)-they were first reported in the U.S. in 2002. Resistance in VRSA is conferred by the vanA gene and operon, which is present on a plasmid. Although treatment of VRSA infections is challenging, the total number of human VRSA infections to date is limited (14 in the U.S.). By comparison, the burden of VISA is relatively high and the molecular mechanisms of resistance are less well-defined. VISA are associated with persistent infections, vancomycin treatment failure, and poor clinical outcomes. Here, we review in brief progress made toward understanding the acquisition of antibiotic resistance in S. aureus, with an emphasis on the molecular mechanisms underlying vancomycin resistance.


Staphylococcus aureus; VISA; VRSA; antibiotic resistance; vancomycin

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