Persistence of antibiotic resistance in bacterial populations

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2011 Sep;35(5):901-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2011.00289.x. Epub 2011 Jul 29.


Unfortunately for mankind, it is very likely that the antibiotic resistance problem we have generated during the last 60 years due to the extensive use and misuse of antibiotics is here to stay for the foreseeable future. This view is based on theoretical arguments, mathematical modeling, experiments and clinical interventions, suggesting that even if we could reduce antibiotic use, resistant clones would remain persistent and only slowly (if at all) be outcompeted by their susceptible relatives. In this review, we discuss the multitude of mechanisms and processes that are involved in causing the persistence of chromosomal and plasmid-borne resistance determinants and how we might use them to our advantage to increase the likelihood of reversing the problem. Of particular interest is the recent demonstration that a very low antibiotic concentration can be enriching for resistant bacteria and the implication that antibiotic release into the environment could contribute to the selection for resistance. Several mechanisms are contributing to the stability of antibiotic resistance in bacterial populations and even if antibiotic use is reduced it is likely that most resistance mechanisms will persist for considerable times.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / transmission
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents