In vivo transmission of an IncA/C plasmid in Escherichia coli depends on tetracycline concentration, and acquisition of the plasmid results in a variable cost of fitness

Johnson TJ, Singer RS, Isaacson RE, Danzeisen JL, Lang K, Kobluk K, Rivet B, Borewicz K, Frye JG, Englen M, Anderson J, Davies PR

IncA/C plasmids are broad-host-range plasmids enabling multidrug resistance that have emerged worldwide among bacterial pathogens of humans and animals. Although antibiotic usage is suspected to be a driving force in the emergence of such strains, few studies have examined the impact of different types of antibiotic administration on the selection of plasmid-containing multidrug resistant isolates. In this study, chlortetracycline treatment at different concentrations in pig feed was examined for its impact on selection and dissemination of an IncA/C plasmid introduced orally via a commensal Escherichia coli host. Continuous low-dose administration of chlortetracycline at 50 g per ton had no observable impact on the proportions of IncA/C plasmid-containing E. coli from pig feces over the course of 35 days. In contrast, high-dose administration of chlortetracycline at 350 g per ton significantly increased IncA/C plasmid-containing E. coli in pig feces (P < 0.001) and increased movement of the IncA/C plasmid to other indigenous E. coli hosts. There was no evidence of conjugal transfer of the IncA/C plasmid to bacterial species other than E. coli. In vitro competition assays demonstrated that bacterial host background substantially impacted the cost of IncA/C plasmid carriage in E. coli and Salmonella. In vitro transfer and selection experiments demonstrated that tetracycline at 32 μg/ml was necessary to enhance IncA/C plasmid conjugative transfer, while subinhibitory concentrations of tetracycline in vitro strongly selected for IncA/C plasmid-containing E. coli. Together, these experiments improve our knowledge on the impact of differing concentrations of tetracycline on the selection of IncA/C-type plasmids.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology 81:3561-3570