Molecular and structural analysis of mosaic variants of penicillin-binding protein 2 conferring decreased susceptibility to expanded-spectrum cephalosporins in Neisseria gonorrhoeae: role of epistatic mutations

Biochemistry. 2010 Sep 21;49(37):8062-70. doi: 10.1021/bi101167x.


Mutations in penicillin-binding protein 2 (PBP 2) encoded by mosaic penA alleles are crucial for intermediate resistance to the expanded-spectrum cephalosporins ceftriaxone and cefixime in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Three of the ∼60 mutations present in mosaic alleles of penA, G545S, I312M, and V316T, have been reported to be responsible for increased resistance, especially to cefixime [Takahata, S., et al. (2006) Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 50, 3638-3645]. However, we observed that the minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of penicillin, ceftriaxone, and cefixime for a wild-type strain (FA19) containing a penA gene with these three mutations increased only 1.5-, 1.5-, and 3.5-fold, respectively. In contrast, when these three mutations in a mosaic penA allele (penA35) were reverted back to the wild type and the gene was transformed into FA19, the MICs of the three antibiotics were reduced to near wild-type levels. Thus, these three mutations display epistasis, in that their capacity to increase resistance to β-lactam antibiotics is dependent on the presence of other mutations in the mosaic alleles. We also identified an additional mutation, N512Y, that contributes to the decreased susceptibility to expanded-spectrum cephalosporins. Finally, we investigated the effects of a mutation (A501V) currently found only in nonmosaic penA alleles on decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone and cefixime, with the expectation that this mutation may arise in mosaic alleles. Transfer of the mosaic penA35 allele containing an A501V mutation to FA6140, a chromosomally mediated penicillin-resistant isolate, increased the MICs of ceftriaxone (0.4 μg/mL) and cefixime (1.2 μg/mL) to levels above their respective break points. The proposed structural mechanisms of these mutations are discussed in light of the recently published structure of PBP 2.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Cefixime / metabolism
  • Cefixime / pharmacology
  • Ceftriaxone / metabolism
  • Ceftriaxone / pharmacology
  • Cephalosporins / metabolism
  • Cephalosporins / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mutation / drug effects
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins* / chemistry
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins* / genetics
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins* / metabolism
  • Penicillins / metabolism
  • Penicillins / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Cephalosporins
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins
  • Penicillins
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Cefixime