Is Neisseria gonorrhoeae initiating a future era of untreatable gonorrhea?: detailed characterization of the first strain with high-level resistance to ceftriaxone

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2011 Jul;55(7):3538-45. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00325-11. Epub 2011 May 16.


Recently, the first Neisseria gonorrhoeae strain (H041) that is highly resistant to the extended-spectrum cephalosporin (ESC) ceftriaxone, the last remaining option for empirical first-line treatment, was isolated. We performed a detailed characterization of H041, phenotypically and genetically, to confirm the finding, examine its antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and elucidate the resistance mechanisms. H041 was examined using seven species-confirmatory tests, antibiograms (30 antimicrobials), porB sequencing, N. gonorrhoeae multiantigen sequence typing (NG-MAST), multilocus sequence typing (MLST), and sequencing of ESC resistance determinants (penA, mtrR, penB, ponA, and pilQ). Transformation, using appropriate recipient strains, was performed to confirm the ESC resistance determinants. H041 was assigned to serovar Bpyust, MLST sequence type (ST) ST7363, and the new NG-MAST ST4220. H041 proved highly resistant to ceftriaxone (2 to 4 μg/ml, which is 4- to 8-fold higher than any previously described isolate) and all other cephalosporins, as well as most other antimicrobials tested. A new penA mosaic allele caused the ceftriaxone resistance. In conclusion, N. gonorrhoeae has now shown its ability to also develop ceftriaxone resistance. Although the biological fitness of ceftriaxone resistance in N. gonorrhoeae remains unknown, N. gonorrhoeae may soon become a true superbug, causing untreatable gonorrhea. A reduction in the global gonorrhea burden by enhanced disease control activities, combined with wider strategies for general AMR control and enhanced understanding of the mechanisms of emergence and spread of AMR, which need to be monitored globally, and public health response plans for global (and national) perspectives are important. Ultimately, the development of new drugs for efficacious gonorrhea treatment is necessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ceftriaxone / pharmacology*
  • Ceftriaxone / therapeutic use
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gonorrhea / drug therapy
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / drug effects
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Ceftriaxone

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AB546858
  • GENBANK/AB608050