Tetracycline resistance determinants: mechanisms of action, regulation of expression, genetic mobility, and distribution

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 1996 Oct;19(1):1-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.1996.tb00251.x.


Tetracycline-resistant bacteria were first isolated in 1953 from Shigella dysenteriae, a bacterium which causes bacterial dysentery. Since then tetracycline-resistant bacterial have been found in increasing numbers of species and genera. This has resulted in reduced effectiveness of tetracycline therapy over time. Tetracycline resistance is normally due to the acquisition of new genes often associated with either a mobile plasmid or a transposon. These tetracycline resistance determinants are distinguishable both genetically and biochemically. Resistance is primarily due to either energy-dependent efflux of tetracycline or protection of the ribosomes from the action of tetracycline. Gram-negative tetracycline efflux proteins are linked to repressor proteins which in the absence of tetracycline block transcription of the repressor and structural efflux genes. In contrast, expression of the Gram-positive tetracycline efflux genes and some of the ribosomal protection genes appears to be regulated by attenuation of mRNA transcription. Specific tetracycline resistance genes have been identified in 32 Gram-negative and 22 Gram-positive genera. Tetracycline-resistant bacteria are found in pathogens, opportunistic and normal flora species. Tetracycline-resistant bacteria can be isolated from man, animals, food, and the environment. The nonpathogens in each of these ecosystems may play an important role as reservoirs for the antibiotic resistance genes. It is clear that if we are to reverse the trend toward increasingly antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria we will need to change how antibiotics are used in both human and animal health and food production.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Ribosomes / drug effects
  • Ribosomes / metabolism
  • Tetracycline / pharmacokinetics
  • Tetracycline / pharmacology
  • Tetracycline Resistance / genetics*
  • Tetracycline Resistance / physiology


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Tetracycline