Identification and characterization of new members of the SXT/R391 family of integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs) in Proteus mirabilis

Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2017 Aug;50(2):242-246. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2017.01.045. Epub 2017 Jun 8.


Integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs) are self-transmissible chromosomal mobile elements that play significant roles in the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance genes. Identification of the structures and functions of ICEs, particularly those in pathogens, improves understanding of the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance. This study identified new members of the sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim (SXT)/R391 family of ICEs that could confer multi-drug resistance in the opportunistic pathogen Proteus mirabilis, characterized their genetic structures, and explored their evolutionary connection with other members of this family of ICEs. Three new members of the SXT/R391 family of ICEs were detected in six of 77 P. mirabilis strains isolated in China: ICEPmiChn2 (one strain), ICEPmiChn3 (one strain) and ICEPmiChn4 (three strains). All three new ICEs harbour antimicrobial resistance genes from diverse origins, suggesting their capability in acquiring foreign genes and serving as important carriers for antimicrobial resistance genes. Structural analysis showed that ICEPmiChn3 is a particularly interesting and unique ICE that has lost core genes involved in conjugation, and could not transfer to other cells via conjugation. This finding confirmed the key roles of these missing genes in conjugation. Further phylogenetic analysis suggested that ICEs in geographically close strains are also connected evolutionarily, and ICEPmiChn3 lost its conjugation cassette from a former mobile ICE. The identification and characterization of the three new members of the SXT/R391 family of ICEs in this work leads to suggestions of core ICE genes essential for conjugation, and extends understanding on the structures of ICEs, evolutionary relationships between ICEs, and the antimicrobial resistance mechanisms of P. mirabilis.

Keywords: Antimicrobial resistance; Conjugation cassette; Integrative and conjugative elements; Mobile genetic elements; Proteus mirabilis; SXT/R391 family.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • China
  • Conjugation, Genetic
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Order
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Interspersed Repetitive Sequences*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Phylogeny
  • Proteus mirabilis / drug effects*
  • Proteus mirabilis / genetics*
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination