Alternative Evolutionary Paths to Bacterial Antibiotic Resistance Cause Distinct Collateral Effects

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Sep 1;34(9):2229-2244. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx158.


When bacteria evolve resistance against a particular antibiotic, they may simultaneously gain increased sensitivity against a second one. Such collateral sensitivity may be exploited to develop novel, sustainable antibiotic treatment strategies aimed at containing the current, dramatic spread of drug resistance. To date, the presence and molecular basis of collateral sensitivity has only been studied in few bacterial species and is unknown for opportunistic human pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In the present study, we assessed patterns of collateral effects by experimentally evolving 160 independent populations of P. aeruginosa to high levels of resistance against eight commonly used antibiotics. The bacteria evolved resistance rapidly and expressed both collateral sensitivity and cross-resistance. The pattern of such collateral effects differed to those previously reported for other bacterial species, suggesting interspecific differences in the underlying evolutionary trade-offs. Intriguingly, we also identified contrasting patterns of collateral sensitivity and cross-resistance among the replicate populations adapted to the same drug. Whole-genome sequencing of 81 independently evolved populations revealed distinct evolutionary paths of resistance to the selective drug, which determined whether bacteria became cross-resistant or collaterally sensitive towards others. Based on genomic and functional genetic analysis, we demonstrate that collateral sensitivity can result from resistance mutations in regulatory genes such as nalC or mexZ, which mediate aminoglycoside sensitivity in β-lactam-adapted populations, or the two-component regulatory system gene pmrB, which enhances penicillin sensitivity in gentamicin-resistant populations. Our findings highlight substantial variation in the evolved collateral effects among replicates, which in turn determine their potential in antibiotic therapy.

Keywords: Pseudomonas aeruginosa; antibiotic resistance; collateral sensitivity; experimental evolution; trade-offs.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Biological Evolution
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genomics / methods
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mutation
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents