Analysing the fitness cost of antibiotic resistance to identify targets for combination antimicrobials

Nat Microbiol. 2021 Nov;6(11):1410-1423. doi: 10.1038/s41564-021-00973-1. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


Mutations in the rifampicin (Rif)-binding site of RNA polymerase (RNAP) confer antibiotic resistance and often have global effects on transcription that compromise fitness and stress tolerance of resistant mutants. We suggested that the non-essential genome, through its impact on the bacterial transcription cycle, may represent an untapped source of targets for combination antimicrobial therapies. Using transposon sequencing, we carried out a genome-wide analysis of fitness cost in a clinically common rpoB H526Y mutant. We find that genes whose products enable increased transcription elongation rates compound the fitness costs of resistance whereas genes whose products function in cell wall synthesis and division mitigate it. We validate our findings by showing that the cell wall synthesis and division defects of rpoB H526Y result from an increased transcription elongation rate that is further exacerbated by the activity of the uracil salvage pathway and unresponsiveness of the mutant RNAP to the alarmone ppGpp. We applied our findings to identify drugs that inhibit more readily rpoB H526Y and other RifR alleles from the same phenotypic class. Thus, genome-wide analysis of fitness cost of antibiotic-resistant mutants should expedite the discovery of new combination therapies and delineate cellular pathways that underlie the molecular mechanisms of cost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Mutation
  • Rifampin / pharmacology*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases
  • Rifampin