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J Antimicrob Chemother. 2019 Jul 31. pii: dkz314. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkz314. [Epub ahead of print]

Polymyxin resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae: multifaceted mechanisms utilized in the presence and absence of the plasmid-encoded phosphoethanolamine transferase gene mcr-1.

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Department of Microbiology, Infection and Immunity Program, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia.
College of Veterinary Medicine, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China.
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.



Until plasmid-mediated mcr-1 was discovered, it was believed that polymyxin resistance in Gram-negative bacteria was mainly mediated by the chromosomally-encoded EptA and ArnT, which modify lipid A with phosphoethanolamine (pEtN) and 4-amino-4-deoxy-l-arabinose (l-Ara4N), respectively. This study aimed to construct a markerless mcr-1 deletion mutant in Klebsiella pneumoniae, validate a reliable reference gene for reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) and investigate the interactions among mcr-1, arnT and eptA, in response to polymyxin treatments using pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics (PK/PD).


An isogenic markerless mcr-1 deletion mutant (II-503Δmcr-1) was generated from a clinical K. pneumoniae II-503 isolate. The efficacy of different polymyxin B dosage regimens was examined using an in vitro one-compartment PK/PD model and polymyxin resistance was assessed using population analysis profiles. The expression of mcr-1, eptA and arnT was examined using RT-qPCR with a reference gene pepQ, and lipid A was profiled using LC-MS. In vivo polymyxin B efficacy was investigated in a mouse thigh infection model.


In K. pneumoniae II-503, mcr-1 was constitutively expressed, irrespective of polymyxin exposure. Against II-503Δmcr-1, an initial bactericidal effect was observed within 4 h with polymyxin B at average steady-state concentrations of 1 and 3 mg/L, mimicking patient PK. However, substantial regrowth and concomitantly increased expression of eptA and arnT were detected. Predominant l-Ara4N-modified lipid A species were detected in II-503Δmcr-1 following polymyxin B treatment.


This is the first study demonstrating a unique markerless deletion of mcr-1 in a clinical polymyxin-resistant K. pneumoniae. The current polymyxin B dosage regimens are suboptimal against K. pneumoniae, regardless of mcr, and can lead to the emergence of resistance.


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