Described antimicrobial resistance mechanisms enable bacteria to avoid the direct effects of antibiotics and can be monitored by in vitro susceptibility testing and genetic methods. Here we describe a mechanism of sulfamethoxazole resistance that requires a host metabolite for activity. Using a combination of in vitro evolution and metabolic rescue experiments, we identify an energy-coupling factor (ECF) transporter S component gene (thfT) that enables Group A Streptococcus to acquire extracellular reduced folate compounds. ThfT likely expands the substrate specificity of an endogenous ECF transporter to acquire reduced folate compounds directly from the host, thereby bypassing the inhibition of folate biosynthesis by sulfamethoxazole. As such, ThfT is a functional equivalent of eukaryotic folate uptake pathways that confers very high levels of resistance to sulfamethoxazole, yet remains undetectable when Group A Streptococcus is grown in the absence of reduced folates. Our study highlights the need to understand how antibiotic susceptibility of pathogens might function during infections to identify additional mechanisms of resistance and reduce ineffective antibiotic use and treatment failures, which in turn further contribute to the spread of antimicrobial resistance genes amongst bacterial pathogens.
© 2022. The Author(s).