Structural Modification of Lipopolysaccharide Conferred by mcr-1 in Gram-Negative ESKAPE Pathogens

Liu YY, Chandler CE, Leung LM, McElheny CL, Mettus RT, Shanks RMQ, Liu JH, Goodlett DR, Ernst RK, Doi Y. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. 2017 May 24;61(6):e00580-17.

mcr-1 was initially reported as the first plasmid-mediated colistin resistance gene in clinical isolates of Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae in China and has subsequently been identified worldwide in various species of the family Enterobacteriaceae. mcr-1 encodes a phosphoethanolamine transferase, and its expression has been shown to generate phosphoethanolamine-modified bis-phosphorylated hexa-acylated lipid A in E. coli. Here, we investigated the effects of mcr-1 on colistin susceptibility and on lipopolysaccharide structures in laboratory and clinical strains of the Gram-negative ESKAPE (Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, K. pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species) pathogens, which are often treated clinically by colistin. The effects of mcr-1 on colistin resistance were determined using MIC assays of laboratory and clinical strains of E. coli, K. pneumoniae, A. baumannii, and P. aeruginosa Lipid A structural changes resulting from MCR-1 were analyzed by mass spectrometry. The introduction of mcr-1 led to colistin resistance in E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and A. baumannii but only moderately reduced susceptibility in P. aeruginosa. Phosphoethanolamine modification of lipid A was observed consistently for all four species. These findings highlight the risk of colistin resistance as a consequence of mcr-1 expression among ESKAPE pathogens, especially in K. pneumoniae and A. baumannii. Furthermore, the observation that lipid A structures were modified despite only modest increases in colistin MICs in some instances suggests more sophisticated surveillance methods may need to be developed to track the dissemination of mcr-1 or plasmid-mediated phosphoethanolamine transferases in general.

Keywords: lipid A; phosphoethanolamine; plasmid; plasmid-mediated resistance; polymyxin resistance; polymyxins.