Rapid expansion and extinction of antibiotic resistance mutations during treatment of acute bacterial respiratory infections

Nat Commun. 2022 Mar 9;13(1):1231. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-28188-w.


Acute bacterial infections are often treated empirically, with the choice of antibiotic therapy updated during treatment. The effects of such rapid antibiotic switching on the evolution of antibiotic resistance in individual patients are poorly understood. Here we find that low-frequency antibiotic resistance mutations emerge, contract, and even go to extinction within days of changes in therapy. We analyzed Pseudomonas aeruginosa populations in sputum samples collected serially from 7 mechanically ventilated patients at the onset of respiratory infection. Combining short- and long-read sequencing and resistance phenotyping of 420 isolates revealed that while new infections are near-clonal, reflecting a recent colonization bottleneck, resistance mutations could emerge at low frequencies within days of therapy. We then measured the in vivo frequencies of select resistance mutations in intact sputum samples with resistance-targeted deep amplicon sequencing (RETRA-Seq), which revealed that rare resistance mutations not detected by clinically used culture-based methods can increase by nearly 40-fold over 5-12 days in response to antibiotic changes. Conversely, mutations conferring resistance to antibiotics not administered diminish and even go to extinction. Our results underscore how therapy choice shapes the dynamics of low-frequency resistance mutations at short time scales, and the findings provide a possibility for driving resistance mutations to extinction during early stages of infection by designing patient-specific antibiotic cycling strategies informed by deep genomic surveillance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacterial Infections* / drug therapy
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / microbiology
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Pseudomonas Infections* / drug therapy
  • Pseudomonas Infections* / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / drug therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents