Antibiotic resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae: origin, evolution, and lessons learned for the future

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Aug;1230:E19-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06215.x.


The strict human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae has caused gonorrhea for thousands of years, and currently gonorrhea is the second most prevalent bacterial sexually transmitted infection worldwide. Given the ancient nature of N. gonorrhoeae and its unique obligate relationship with humankind over the millennia, its remarkable ability to adapt to the host immune system and cause repeated infections, and its propensity to develop resistance to all clinically useful antibiotics, the gonococcus is an ideal pathogen on which to study the evolution of bacterial pathogenesis, including antimicrobial resistance, over the long term and within the host during infection. Recently, the first gonococcus displaying high-level resistance to ceftriaxone, identified in Japan, was characterized in detail. Ceftriaxone is the last remaining option for empirical first-line treatment, and N. gonorrhoeae now seems to be evolving into a true "superbug." In the near future, gonorrhea may become untreatable in certain circumstances. Herein, the history of antibiotics used for treatment of gonorrhea, the evolution of resistance emergence in N. gonorrhoeae, the linkage between resistance and biological fitness of N. gonorrhoeae, lessons learned, and future perspectives are reviewed and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Fitness / physiology
  • Gonorrhea / drug therapy
  • Gonorrhea / genetics
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology*
  • Gonorrhea / transmission
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / trends
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / genetics*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / pathogenicity
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae / physiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents