Enterococcus faecalis is a human intestinal pathobiont with intrinsic and acquired resistance to many antibiotics, including vancomycin. Nature provides a diverse and virtually untapped repertoire of bacterial viruses, or bacteriophages (phages), that could be harnessed to combat multidrug-resistant enterococcal infections. Bacterial phage resistance represents a potential barrier to the implementation of phage therapy, emphasizing the importance of investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying the emergence of phage resistance. Using a cohort of 19 environmental lytic phages with tropism against E. faecalis, we found that these phages require the enterococcal polysaccharide antigen (Epa) for productive infection. Epa is a surface-exposed heteroglycan synthesized by enzymes encoded by both conserved and strain-specific genes. We discovered that exposure to phage selective pressure favors mutation in nonconserved epa genes both in culture and in a mouse model of intestinal colonization. Despite gaining phage resistance, epa mutant strains exhibited a loss of resistance to cell wall-targeting antibiotics. Finally, we show that an E. faecalis epa mutant strain is deficient in intestinal colonization, cannot expand its population upon antibiotic-driven intestinal dysbiosis, and fails to be efficiently transmitted to juvenile mice following birth. This study demonstrates that phage therapy could be used in combination with antibiotics to target enterococci within a dysbiotic microbiota. Enterococci that evade phage therapy by developing resistance may be less fit at colonizing the intestine and sensitized to vancomycin, preventing their overgrowth during antibiotic treatment.
Keywords: Enterococcus; antibiotic resistance; bacteriophages; dysbiosis; exopolysaccharide; intestinal colonization.
Copyright © 2019 American Society for Microbiology.