Klebsiella pneumoniae: a progression to multidrug resistance
Klebsiella pneumoniae is a common cause of nosocomial and community-acquired infections, and the increasing incidence and prevalence of antibiotic resistant strains is proving to be particularly problematic to clinicians. K. pneumoniae is capable of employing a multitude of mechanisms by which to confer resistance to most available antibiotics. The carbapenem antibiotics are usually reserved for the treatment of complicated or multidrug resistant (MDR) K. pneumoniae infections. The recent emergence of not only MDR but also pan-drug resistant (PDR) K. pneumoniae strains has signified that it is now more important than ever to understand the mechanisms by which these strains confer resistance so that we may find ways to combat or hinder this progression. This project aimed to investigate the regulation of the transcriptional activator RamA, its ability to confer a MDR phenotype, and the mechanisms employed by K. pneumoniae to confer levels of carbapenem resistance sufficient to result in therapy failure. The analysis of a panel of K. pneumoniae strains, containing both RamA expressers and non-expressers, demonstrated that the overexpression of RamA was sufficient to confer an MDR phenotype. Two compounds, chlorpromazine (CPZ) and tigecycline, were shown to act as inducers of ramA, romA and acrA transcription. CPZ exhibited synergy with the antibiotics chloramphenicol, norfloxacin and tetracycline, all of which are known substrates of the AcrAB efflux pump. The current lack of novel classes of antimicrobials in development indicate a potential for a compound, such as CPZ, to be developed and exploited for clinical use. The ability of both CPZ and tigecycline to cause mutations within ramR however, indicate that both compounds may have the ability to select for efflux mutants as a result of their ability to upregulate ramA, which in turn causes the upregulation of the AcrAB efflux pump. The regulation of RamA by the upstream gene ramR, which encodes a TetR family protein was investigated in K. pneumoniae isolates. Sequencing of the ramR genes revealed that strains exhibiting an MDR phenotype commonly contained mutations within their gene sequences. The complementation of a wildtype ramR into a strain containing a 32 amino acid deletion within its ramR, was shown to increase susceptibility to various antibiotics of different classes, and additionally downregulate the expression of ramA, romA and acrA. CPZ, ciprofloxacin and tigecycline K. pneumoniae mutants were shown to exhibit increased MICs to a broad spectrum of antibiotics with respect to their parent strains, and possess mutations within their ramR genes. Complementation of the wildtype ramR resulted in partial reversion to the parental phenotypes, indicating another mechanism must also be involved in conferring the MDR phenotypes. These studies indicated that RamR plays an important role as a negative regulator of RamA, but also that it is not the sole regulator. The development of reduced susceptibility to the carbapenems was investigated in two clinical strains of K. pneumoniae, K1 and K2, isolated from the urine of a single patient at different stages of antibiotic therapy. The strains were shown to exhibit similar resistance phenotypes with the exception of their susceptibilities to the carbapenems. PCR and phenotypic analyses revealed that neither strain contained any carbapenemases or AmpC enzymes, but both contained OXA-1, SHV-1 TEM-1 and CTX-M-15. Analysis of their OMP profiles indicated that both strains lacked OmpK35, and K2 additionally lacked OmpK36. Mutation studies showed that the phenotype and OMP profile exhibited by K2 could be achieved in K1 via single step mutations using ertapenem, imipenem or meropenem. Susceptibility testing of CTXM- 15 clinical strains showed that strains containing CTX-M-15 showed reduced activity against ertapenem in the presence of clavulanic acid. These studies indicated a potential role for CTX-M-15 in conferring reduced susceptibility to the carbapenems when found in conjunction with altered permeability and active efflux. The mechanisms of antibiotic resistance employed by K. pneumoniae are numerous and complex. This work highlights several of these mechanisms and, more importantly, how they can work in synergy with one another to devastating consequences.
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