Epistasis between antibiotic resistance mutations and genetic background shape the fitness effect of resistance across species of Pseudomonas

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 May 11;283(1830):20160151. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0151.


Antibiotic resistance often evolves by mutations at conserved sites in essential genes, resulting in parallel molecular evolution between divergent bacterial strains and species. Whether these resistance mutations are having parallel effects on fitness across bacterial taxa, however, is unclear. This is an important point to address, because the fitness effects of resistance mutations play a key role in the spread and maintenance of resistance in pathogen populations. We address this idea by measuring the fitness effect of a collection of rifampicin resistance mutations in the β subunit of RNA polymerase (rpoB) across eight strains that span the diversity of the genus Pseudomonas We find that almost 50% of rpoB mutations have background-dependent fitness costs, demonstrating that epistatic interactions between rpoB and the rest of the genome are common. Moreover, epistasis is typically strong, and it is the dominant genetic determinant of the cost of resistance mutations. To investigate the functional basis of epistasis, and because rpoB plays a central role in transcription, we measured the effects of common rpoB mutations on transcriptional efficiency across three strains of Pseudomonas Transcriptional efficiency correlates strongly to fitness across strains, and epistasis arises because individual rpoB mutations have differential effects on transcriptional efficiency in different genetic backgrounds.

Keywords: Pseudomonas; antibiotic resistance; fitness costs; genetic background.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Mutation
  • Phylogeny
  • Pseudomonas / drug effects*
  • Pseudomonas / genetics*
  • Rifampin / pharmacology


  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases
  • Rifampin

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.qn370