Objectives: To investigate in vivo fitness of rifampicin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus mutants in a mouse biofilm model using bioluminescence imaging.
Materials and methods: S. aureus was engineered with a luciferase operon to emit bioluminescence that can be detected in vivo using an IVIS imaging system. Two rifampicin-resistant strains of S. aureus that were previously isolated from animals undergoing rifampicin treatment, S464P (resistant to low concentrations of rifampicin) and H481Y (resistant to high concentrations of rifampicin), were characterized and then compared with their parental strain for in vivo fitness to form biofilm infections in the absence of rifampicin.
Results: The mutant S464P showed better adaptation to in vivo growth than either the parental strain or H481Y without selective pressure. Six days after implanting pre-colonized catheters, bioluminescent signals were seen from 100% of the catheters coated by the mutant S464P. In comparison, only 83% and 61% of the catheters coated by the parental strain and H481Y, respectively, maintained a signal in vivo. Rifampicin treatment of S464P biofilms in vivo resulted in a slight decline, but earlier rebound in bioluminescence from these catheters compared with the parental signal, whereas rifampicin had no affect on bioluminescence in mice infected with mutant H481Y.
Conclusions: The mutant with low-level rifampicin resistance appears to be better adapted to in vivo growth than the mutant that has high-level rifampicin resistance. Moreover, the former mutant may actually have a slight competitive advantage over the rifampicin-susceptible strain (parental), raising awareness for the occurrence of such strains in clinical environments.