Molecular evolution of multiply-antibiotic-resistant staphylococci

Ciba Found Symp. 1997;207:167-83; discussion 183-91. doi: 10.1002/9780470515358.ch11.


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an intractable nosocomial pathogen. The chemotherapeutic intransigence of this organism stems from its predilection to antimicrobial resistance as a consequential response to selective pressures prevailing in the clinical environment. MRSA isolates are frequently resistant to all practicable antimicrobials except the glycopeptide, vancomycin. Although antimicrobial resistance sometimes arises via chromosomal mutation, the emergence of multiply-antibiotic-resistant staphylococci is primarily due to the acquisition of pre-existent resistance genes; such determinants can be encoded chromosomally or by plasmids and are often associated with transposons or insertion sequences. Clinical staphylococci commonly carry one or more plasmids, ranging from small replicons that are phenotypically cryptic or contain only a single resistance gene, to larger episomes that possess several such determinants and sometimes additionally encode systems that mediate their own conjugative transmission and the mobilization of other plasmids. The detection of closely related plasmids, elements and/or genes in other hosts, including coagulase-negative staphylococci and enterococci, attests to interspecific and intergeneric genetic exchange facilitated by mobile genetic elements and DNA transfer mechanisms. The extended genetic reservoir accessible to staphylococci afforded by such horizontal gene flux is fundamental to the acquisition, maintenance and dissemination of staphylococcal antimicrobial resistance in general, and multiresistance in particular.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics*