Plasmid-mediated penicillin and tetracycline resistance among Neisseria gonorrhoeae isolates in South Africa: prevalence, detection and typing using a novel molecular assay

Sex Transm Dis. 2011 Apr;38(4):329-33. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e3181fc695a.


Background: To detect and type plasmids responsible for penicillin and tetracycline resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae isolates using a novel duplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay.

Methods: A duplex PCR assay, to detect and type penicillinase-producing N. gonorrhoeae (PPNG), and plasmid-mediated tetracycline resistant N. gonorrhoeae (TRNG), was developed on the basis of published single assays. Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project control strains were used in assay development and then 209 consecutive N. gonorrhoeae isolates, collected from men with urethral discharge in 2008, were tested. Controls included Asia, Africa, and Toronto β-lactamase plasmids, as well as American and Dutch TRNG plasmids. PCR amplicons were detected using an Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer. Minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) were determined with E tests. Penicillinase production was detected using Nitrocefin solution.

Results: Among 209 gonococcal isolates, 54 (25.8%) PPNG and 154 (73.3%) TRNG were detected. The MIC50 and MIC90 values were determined for penicillin (0.19 and 32 mg/L) and tetracycline (6 and 16 mg/L). The assay detected the Africa-type (35.2%), the Toronto-type (44.4%), and a new type (20.3%) of β-lactamase plasmid. The American-type TRNG plasmid was 3-fold more frequent as compared with the Dutch-type. Although there was no overall association between the detection of PPNG and TRNG plasmids, only American type TRNG contained β-lactamase-encoding plasmids (P < 0.0001).

Conclusions: The prevalence of plasmid-mediated resistance to tetracycline, and to a lesser extent penicillin, is high and neither drug is likely to have any future role in the treatment of gonorrhoea in South Africa. A novel β-lactamase plasmid was detected during the study and requires further characterization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Gonorrhea / drug therapy
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Typing
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / isolation & purification
  • Penicillin Resistance / genetics*
  • Penicillins / pharmacology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Prevalence
  • R Factors / genetics
  • South Africa
  • Tetracycline / pharmacology
  • Tetracycline Resistance / genetics*
  • Urethra / microbiology
  • beta-Lactamases / genetics


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Penicillins
  • beta-Lactamases
  • Tetracycline