Conjugative plasmids interact with insertion sequences to shape the horizontal transfer of antimicrobial resistance genes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Feb 9;118(6):e2008731118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2008731118.


It is well established that plasmids play an important role in the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes; however, little is known about the role of the underlying interactions between different plasmid categories and other mobile genetic elements (MGEs) in shaping the promiscuous spread of AMR genes. Here, we developed a tool designed for plasmid classification, AMR gene annotation, and plasmid visualization and found that most plasmid-borne AMR genes, including those localized on class 1 integrons, are enriched in conjugative plasmids. Notably, we report the discovery and characterization of a massive insertion sequence (IS)-associated AMR gene transfer network (245 combinations covering 59 AMR gene subtypes and 53 ISs) linking conjugative plasmids and phylogenetically distant pathogens, suggesting a general evolutionary mechanism for the horizontal transfer of AMR genes mediated by the interaction between conjugative plasmids and ISs. Moreover, our experimental results confirmed the importance of the observed interactions in aiding the horizontal transfer and expanding the genetic range of AMR genes within complex microbial communities.

Keywords: antimicrobial resistance; horizontal gene transfer; long-reads sequencing; mobile genetic elements; whole genome.