Transiently silent acquired antimicrobial resistance: an emerging challenge in susceptibility testing

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2023 Mar 2;78(3):586-598. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkad024.


Acquisition and expression of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) mechanisms in bacteria are often associated with a fitness cost. Thus, evolutionary adaptation and fitness cost compensation may support the advance of subpopulations with a silent resistance phenotype when the antibiotic selection pressure is absent. However, reports are emerging on the transient nature of silent acquired AMR, describing genetic alterations that can change the expression of these determinants to a clinically relevant level of resistance, and the association with breakthrough infections causing treatment failures. This phenomenon of transiently silent acquired AMR (tsaAMR) is likely to increase, considering the overall expansion of acquired AMR in bacterial pathogens. Moreover, the augmented use of genotypic methods in combination with conventional phenotypic antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) will increasingly enable the detection of genotype and phenotype discrepancy. This review defines tsaAMR as acquired antimicrobial resistance genes with a corresponding phenotype within the wild-type distribution or below the clinical breakpoint for susceptibility for which genetic alterations can mediate expression to a clinically relevant level of resistance. References to in vivo resistance development and therapeutic failures caused by selected resistant subpopulations of tsaAMR in Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogens are given. We also describe the underlying molecular mechanisms, including alterations in the expression, reading frame or copy number of AMR determinants, and discuss the clinical relevance concerning challenges for conventional AST.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Anti-Infective Agents*
  • Bacteria
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Phenotype


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Infective Agents