Evolutionary Responses to Acquiring a Multidrug Resistance Plasmid Are Dominated by Metabolic Functions across Diverse Escherichia coli Lineages

mSystems. 2023 Feb 23;8(1):e0071322. doi: 10.1128/msystems.00713-22. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Multidrug resistance (MDR) plasmids drive the spread of antibiotic resistance between bacterial lineages. The immediate impact of MDR plasmid acquisition on fitness and cellular processes varies among bacterial lineages, but how the evolutionary processes enabling the genomic integration of MDR plasmids vary is less well understood, particularly in clinical pathogens. Using diverse Escherichia coli lineages experimentally evolved for ~700 generations, we show that the evolutionary response to gaining the MDR plasmid pLL35 was dominated by chromosomal mutations affecting metabolic and regulatory functions, with both strain-specific and shared mutational targets. The expression of several of these functions, such as anaerobic metabolism, is known to be altered upon acquisition of pLL35. Interactions with resident mobile genetic elements, notably several IS-elements, potentiated parallel mutations, including insertions upstream of hns that were associated with its upregulation and the downregulation of the plasmid-encoded extended-spectrum beta-lactamase gene. Plasmid parallel mutations targeted conjugation-related genes, whose expression was also commonly downregulated in evolved clones. Beyond their role in horizontal gene transfer, plasmids can be an important selective force shaping the evolution of bacterial chromosomes and core cellular functions. IMPORTANCE Plasmids drive the spread of antimicrobial resistance genes between bacterial genomes. However, the evolutionary processes allowing plasmids to be assimilated by diverse bacterial genomes are poorly understood, especially in clinical pathogens. Using experimental evolution with diverse E. coli lineages and a clinical multidrug resistance plasmid, we show that although plasmids drove unique evolutionary paths per lineage, there was a surprising degree of convergence in the functions targeted by mutations across lineages, dominated by metabolic functions. Remarkably, these same metabolic functions show higher evolutionary rates in MDR-lineages in nature and in some cases, like anaerobic metabolism, their expression is directly manipulated by the plasmid. Interactions with other mobile elements resident in the genomes accelerated adaptation by disrupting genes and regulatory sequences that they inserted into. Beyond their role in horizontal gene transfer, plasmids are an important selective force driving the evolution of bacterial genomes and core cellular functions.

Keywords: ESBL; Escherichia coli; ST131; antimicrobial resistance; cefotaxime; experimental evolution; horizontal gene transfer; plasmid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance, Multiple
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Genome, Bacterial* / genetics
  • Genomics
  • Plasmids / genetics