Background: Antimicrobial resistance among pneumococci has greatly increased over the past two to three decades. Resistance to tetracycline (tet(M)), chloramphenicol (cat) and macrolides (erm(B) and/or mef(A/E)) is generally conferred by acquisition of specific genes that are associated with mobile genetic elements, including those of the Tn916 and Tn5252 families. The first tetracycline-, chloramphenicol- and macrolide-resistant pneumococci were detected between 1962 and 1970; however, until now the oldest pneumococcus shown to harbour Tn916 and/or Tn5252 was isolated in 1974. In this study the genomes of 38 pneumococci isolated prior to 1974 were probed for the presence of tet(M), cat, erm(B), mef(A/E) and int (integrase) to indicate the presence of Tn916/Tn5252-like elements.
Results: Two Tn916-like, tet(M)-containing, elements were identified among pneumococci dated 1967 and 1968. The former element was highly similar to that of the PMEN1 multidrug-resistant, globally-distributed pneumococcal reference strain, which was isolated in 1984. The latter element was associated with a streptococcal phage. A third, novel genetic element, designated ICESpPN1, was identified in the genome of an isolate dated 1972. ICESpPN1 contained a region of similarity to Tn5252, a region of similarity to a pneumococcal pathogenicity island and novel lantibiotic synthesis/export-associated genes.
Conclusions: These data confirm the existence of pneumococcal Tn916 elements in the first decade within which pneumococcal tetracycline resistance was described. Furthermore, the discovery of ICESpPN1 demonstrates the dynamic variability of pneumococcal genetic elements and is contrasted with the evidence for Tn916 stability.