Horizontal transfer of plasmids encoding antimicrobial resistance and virulence determinants has been instrumental in Staphylococcus aureus evolution, including the emergence of community-associated methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA). In the early 1990s, the first CA-MRSA strain isolated in Western Australia (WA), WA-5, encoded cadmium, tetracycline, and penicillin resistance genes on plasmid pWBG753 (∼30 kb). WA-5 and pWBG753 appeared only briefly in WA; however, fusidic acid resistance plasmids related to pWBG753 were also present in the first European CA-MRSA isolates at the time. Here, we characterize a 72-kb conjugative plasmid, pWBG731, present in multiresistant WA-5-like clones from the same period. pWBG731 was a cointegrant formed from pWBG753 and a pWBG749 family conjugative plasmid. pWBG731 carried mupirocin, trimethoprim, cadmium, and penicillin resistance genes. The stepwise evolution of pWBG731 likely occurred through the combined actions of IS257, IS257-dependent miniature inverted-repeat transposable elements (MITEs), and the BinL resolution system of the β-lactamase transposon Tn552 An evolutionarily intermediate ∼42-kb nonconjugative plasmid, pWBG715, possessed the same resistance genes as pWBG731 but retained an integrated copy of the small tetracycline resistance plasmid pT181. IS257 likely facilitated the replacement of pT181 with conjugation genes on pWBG731, thus enabling autonomous transfer. Like conjugative plasmid pWBG749, pWBG731 also mobilized nonconjugative plasmids carrying oriT mimics. It seems likely that pWBG731 represents the product of multiple recombination events between the WA-5 pWBG753 plasmid and other mobile genetic elements present in indigenous community-associated methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (CA-MSSA) isolates. The molecular evolution of pWBG731 saliently illustrates how diverse mobile genetic elements can together facilitate rapid accrual and horizontal dissemination of multiresistance in S. aureus CA-MRSA.
Keywords: CA-MRSA; IS257; MITEs; Staphylococcus aureus; Tn552; conjugation; mupirocin; plasmid; resolvase; trimethoprim.
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