Significance of the OXA-51-like β-lactamases of Acinetobacter baumannii.
The genus Acinetobacter currently contains 34 species, the vast majority of which are not regularly implicated in causing infection. However, incidences of hospitalacquired infection with Acinetobacter species are increasing, mainly due to the rise in the number of infections caused by the species Acinetobacter baumannii in immunocompromised patients particularly in intensive care units (ICUs). Due to high levels of resistance in A. baumannii to many classes of antibiotic, the carbapenems have been portrayed as the ‘drugs of choice’ for treating infections with this species. However, the activity of the carbapenems against A. baumannii has come under threat with the identification of four groups of class D β-lactamases carried by members of the species. Of these, the OXA-51-like enzymes have been suggested to be ubiquitous and intrinsic enzymes within A. baumannii. This presents the worrying scenario of the potential for all A. baumannii to become carbapenem resistant, leaving few treatment options available for this species. This project aimed to investigate the epidemiological spread of the OXA-51-like β-lactamases, examine the diversity within these enzymes, and whether this diversity may have implications for their ability to confer resistance to the carbapenems. A functional map showing the amino-acid similarities between the OXA-51-like enzymes demonstrated that the enzymes fall into distinct closely-related groups, with notable clusters surrounding OXA-66, OXA-69 and OXA-98. PCR and sequencing analysis of a geographically diverse group of 64 A. baumannii isolates demonstrated that isolates forming specific sequence groups (SGs) as defined by Turton et al (2007) also contained the same or closely related blaOXA-51-like gene. Higher minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of carbapenems were found in association with acquired carbapenemases, or with the presence of ISAba1 upstream of the blaOXA-51- like gene. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis of the isolates did not demonstrate relatedness between isolates which formed the same sequence group. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) of a subset of 44 isolates grouped isolates more consistently with the SGs and blaOXA-51-like alleles, indicating that PFGE is unreliable for use with A. baumannii unless studying a short time period, and that blaOXA-51-like alleles are a good epidemiological marker. Mutation studies using meropenem with five A. baumannii isolates encoding different OXA-51-like enzymes, while resulting in an increase in meropenem MICs of between 8- and 128-fold, did not result in a nucleotide substitution in the blaOXA- 51-like genes or a change in the upstream region of the genes in any isolate suggesting that the carbapenems may not be producing a strong selective pressure on the blaOXA- 51-like genes. Analysis of πN/πS ratios for the blaOXA-51-like genes, MLST genes and the TEM, SHV and CTX-M β-lactamase families showed the blaOXA-51-like genes to be under less positive selection than these other β-lactamases, though under less purifying selection than the MLST genes. Phylogenetic analysis of the MLST genes and the blaOXA-51-like genes indicates that the blaOXA-51-like genes have been evolving within A. baumannii since its speciation, and that different groups of blaOXA-51-like genes have been evolving at different rates corresponding to different rates of evolution within their parent lineages. Structural modelling studies based upon the published crystal structure for OXA-40 indicated that amino-acid variation at particular sites in the OXA-51-like enzymes are likely to have an effect of enzyme function. Alterations at amino-acid position 167 change the shape of the entrance to the active site which may affect hydrolysis by accommodating the antibiotic differently, or may affect the substrate profile of the enzyme. The substitution of glutamine for proline at position 194 may significantly alter the shape of the enzyme thereby affecting substrate hydrolysis. This project found that specific groups of blaOXA-51-like genes are associated with specific A. baumannii lineages and that these genes could serve as convenient epidemiological markers. Most of the diversity within the OXA-51-like enzymes is due to their continued evolution within A. baumannii since the species’ emergence. However, certain amino-acid changes may play a role in altering the rate of hydrolysis or substrate profile of these enzymes.