The use of cephalosporins for gonorrhea: the impending problem of resistance

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2009 Mar;10(4):555-77. doi: 10.1517/14656560902731993.


Gonorrhea remains an important clinical and public health problem throughout the world. Gonococcal infections have historically been diagnosed by Gram stain and culture but are increasingly diagnosed through nucleic acid tests, thereby eliminating the opportunity for antimicrobial susceptibility testing. Gonococcal infections are typically treated with single-dose therapy with an agent found to cure > 95% of cases. Unfortunately, the gonococcus has repeatedly developed resistance to antimicrobials including sulfonamides, penicillin, tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones. This has now left third-generation cephalosporins as the lone class of antimicrobials recommended as first-line therapy for gonorrhea in some regions. However, resistance to oral third-generation cephalosporins has emerged and spread in Asia, Australia and elsewhere. The mechanism of this resistance seems to be associated with a mosaic penicillin binding protein (penA) in addition to other chromosomal mutations previously found to confer resistance to beta-lactam antimicrobials (ponA, mtrR, penB, pilQ). Few good options exist or are in development for treating cephalosporin-resistant isolates, as most have had multidrug resistance. Preventing the spread of resistant isolates will depend on ambitious antimicrobial management programs, strengthening and expanding surveillance networks, and through effective sexually transmitted disease control and prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cephalosporin Resistance*
  • Cephalosporins / pharmacology
  • Cephalosporins / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial*
  • Gonorrhea / drug therapy*
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins / genetics


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Cephalosporins
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins