Adaptive resistance is an autoregulated phenomenon characterised by induction of resistance in the presence of drug and reversal to the sensitive phenotype in its absence. This type of resistance is well documented for polycationic antibiotics, including aminoglycosides and polymyxins, in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and other aerobic Gram-negative bacilli. It is not caused by selection of resistant mutants but rather by phenotypic alterations in order to survive the lethal drug effect. Adaptive resistance to aminoglycosides is mainly mediated by the MexXY-OprM efflux pump that is rapidly upregulated in bacteria surviving the first exposure to aminoglycosides and is downregulated when bacteria are no longer in contact with the drug. A two-component regulatory system designated ParR-ParS plays a major role in adaptive resistance induced by cationic peptides. In the presence of cationic peptides, ParR-ParS activates the lipopolysaccharide modification operon (arnBCADTEF) leading to increased resistance in polymyxins and aminoglycosides. The bactericidal kinetics related to adaptive resistance have important clinical implications and provide a rationale for administering cationic antibiotics in larger initial and longer interval bolus dosing. A better understanding of this phenomenon and the molecular mechanisms responsible will be essential not only for optimum use of cationic antibiotics but also for developing new agents with ability to counteract the detrimental effects of adaptive resistance and thus enhance the therapeutic efficacy of polycationic compounds.
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