Fitness Trade-Offs Resulting from Bacteriophage Resistance Potentiate Synergistic Antibacterial Strategies

Infect Immun. 2020 Jun 22;88(7):e00926-19. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00926-19. Print 2020 Jun 22.


Bacteria that cause life-threatening infections in humans are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. In some instances, this is due to intrinsic and acquired antibiotic resistance, indicating that new therapeutic approaches are needed to combat bacterial pathogens. There is renewed interest in utilizing viruses of bacteria known as bacteriophages (phages) as potential antibacterial therapeutics. However, critics suggest that similar to antibiotics, the development of phage-resistant bacteria will halt clinical phage therapy. Although the emergence of phage-resistant bacteria is likely inevitable, there is a growing body of literature showing that phage selective pressure promotes mutations in bacteria that allow them to subvert phage infection, but with a cost to their fitness. Such fitness trade-offs include reduced virulence, resensitization to antibiotics, and colonization defects. Resistance to phage nucleic acid entry, primarily via cell surface modifications, compromises bacterial fitness during antibiotic and host immune system pressure. In this minireview, we explore the mechanisms behind phage resistance in bacterial pathogens and the physiological consequences of acquiring phage resistance phenotypes. With this knowledge, it may be possible to use phages to alter bacterial populations, making them more tractable to current therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: antibiotic resistance; bacterial fitness; bacterial infection; bacteriophages; colonization; phage receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / virology*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacteriophages / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Phage Therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins