Evolution of polyamine resistance in Staphylococcus aureus through modulation of potassium transport

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Evolution of polyamine resistance in Staphylococcus aureus through modulation of potassium transport


Campbell, K.; Kowalski, C. H.; Kohler, K.; Barber, M.


Microbes must adapt to diverse biotic and abiotic factors encountered in host environments. Polyamines are an abundant class of aliphatic molecules that play essential roles in fundamental cellular processes across the tree of life. Surprisingly, the bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus is highly sensitive to polyamines encountered during infection, and acquisition of a polyamine resistance locus has been implicated in spread of the prominent USA300 methicillin-resistant S. aureus lineage. At present, alternative pathways of polyamine resistance in staphylococci are largely unknown. Here we applied experimental evolution to identify novel mechanisms and consequences of S. aureus adaption when exposed to increasing concentrations of the polyamine spermine. Evolved populations of S. aureus exhibited striking evidence of parallel adaptation, accumulating independent mutations in the potassium transporter genes ktrA and ktrD. Mutations in either ktrA or ktrD are sufficient to confer polyamine resistance and function in an additive manner. Moreover, we find that ktr mutations provide increased resistance to multiple classes of unrelated cationic antibiotics, suggesting a common mechanism of resistance. Consistent with this hypothesis, ktr mutants exhibit alterations in cell surface charge indicative of reduced affinity and uptake of cationic molecules. Finally, we observe that laboratory-evolved ktr mutations are also present in diverse natural S. aureus isolates, suggesting these mutations may contribute to antimicrobial resistance during human infections. Collectively this study identifies a new role for potassium transport in S. aureus polyamine resistance with consequences for susceptibility to both host-derived and clinically-used antimicrobials.

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