Mechanisms of methicillin resistance in staphylococci

APMIS. 1997 Apr;105(4):264-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1699-0463.1997.tb00568.x.


The continuously high prevalence of methicillin-resistant staphylococci (MRS) throughout the world is a constant threat to public health, owing to the multiresistant characteristics of these bacteria. Methicillin resistance is phenotypically associated with the presence of the penicillin-binding protein 2a (PBP2a) not present in susceptible staphylococci. This protein has a low binding affinity for beta-lactam antibiotics. It is a transpeptidase which may take over cell wall synthesis during antibiotic treatment when normally occurring PBPs are inactivated by ligating beta-lactams. PBP2a is encoded by the mecA gene, which is located in mec, a foreign DNA region. Expression of PBP2a is regulated by proteins encoded by the plasmid-borne blaR1-bla1 inducer-repressor system and the corresponding genomic mecRl-mecl system. The blaRl-blal products are important both for the regulation of beta-lactamase and for mecA expression. Methicillin resistance is influenced by a number of additional factors, e.g. the products of the chromosomal fem genes which are important in the synthesis of normal peptidoglycan precursor molecules. Inactivation of fem-genes results in structurally deficient precursors which are not accepted as cell wall building blocks by the ligating PBP2a transpeptidase during antibiotic treatment. This may result in reduced resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics. Inactivation of genes affecting autolysis has shown that autolytic enzymes are also of importance in the expression of methicillin resistance. Methicillin resistance has evolved among earth microorganisms for protection against exogenous or endogenous antibiotics. Presumably the mec region was originally transferred from coagulase negative staphylococci (CNS) to Staphylococcus aureus (SA). A single or a few events of this kind with little subsequent interspecies transfer had been anticipated. However, recent data suggest a continuous horizontal acquisition by S. aureus of mec, being unidirectional from CNS to SA. Methicillin resistance may also be associated with mechanisms independent of mecA, resulting in borderline methicillin resistance. These mechanisms include beta-lactamase hyperproduction, production of methicillinases, acquisition of structurally modified normal PBPs, or the appearance of small colony variants of SA. Most MRS are multiresistant, and the mec region may harbour several resistance determinants, resulting in a clustering of resistance genes within this region.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Hexosyltransferases*
  • Humans
  • Methicillin / pharmacology
  • Methicillin / therapeutic use
  • Methicillin Resistance*
  • Muramoylpentapeptide Carboxypeptidase / biosynthesis
  • Muramoylpentapeptide Carboxypeptidase / genetics
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins
  • Peptidyl Transferases*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / drug therapy
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Staphylococcus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus / genetics*
  • Staphylococcus / physiology


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Penicillin-Binding Proteins
  • Peptidyl Transferases
  • Hexosyltransferases
  • Muramoylpentapeptide Carboxypeptidase
  • Methicillin