Interplay in the selection of fluoroquinolone resistance and bacterial fitness

PLoS Pathog. 2009 Aug;5(8):e1000541. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000541. Epub 2009 Aug 7.


Fluoroquinolones are antibacterial drugs that inhibit DNA Gyrase and Topoisomerase IV. These essential enzymes facilitate chromosome replication and RNA transcription by regulating chromosome supercoiling. High-level resistance to fluoroquinolones in E. coli requires the accumulation of multiple mutations, including those that alter target genes and genes regulating drug efflux. Previous studies have shown some drug-resistance mutations reduce bacterial fitness, leading to the selection of fitness-compensatory mutations. The impact of fluoroquinolone-resistance on bacterial fitness was analyzed in constructed isogenic strains carrying up to 5 resistance mutations. Some mutations significantly decreased bacterial fitness both in vitro and in vivo. We identified low-fitness triple-mutants where the acquisition of a fourth resistance mutation significantly increased fitness in vitro and in vivo while at the same time dramatically decreasing drug susceptibility. The largest effect occurred with the addition of a parC mutation (Topoisomerase IV) to a low-fitness strain carrying resistance mutations in gyrA (DNA Gyrase) and marR (drug efflux regulation). Increased fitness was accompanied by a significant change in the level of gyrA promoter activity as measured in an assay of DNA supercoiling. In selection and competition experiments made in the absence of drug, parC mutants that improved fitness and reduced susceptibility were selected. These data suggest that natural selection for improved growth in bacteria with low-level resistance to fluoroquinolones could in some cases select for further reductions in drug susceptibility. Thus, increased resistance to fluoroquinolones could be selected even in the absence of further exposure to the drug.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • DNA Gyrase / drug effects
  • DNA Gyrase / genetics
  • DNA Topoisomerase IV / drug effects
  • DNA Topoisomerase IV / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / drug effects
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Infections
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics*
  • Fluoroquinolones / pharmacology*
  • Genes, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mutation
  • Population Dynamics
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • MarR protein, E coli
  • Repressor Proteins
  • DNA Topoisomerase IV
  • DNA Gyrase