Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 34851165
Link to DOI – 10.1128/msphere.00746-21
mSphere 2021 Dec; 6(6): e0074621
Acinetobacter baumannii is a successful nosocomial pathogen due to its genomic plasticity. Homologous recombination allows genetic exchange and allelic variation among different clonal lineages and is one of the mechanisms associated with horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of resistance determinants. The main mechanism of colistin resistance in A. baumannii is mediated through mutations in the pmrCAB operon. Here, we describe two A. baumannii clinical isolates belonging to International Clone 7 (IC7) that have undergone recombination in the pmrCAB operon and evaluate the contribution of mobile genetic elements (MGE) to this phenomenon. Isolates 67569 and 72554 were colistin susceptible and resistant, respectively, and were submitted for short- and long-read genome sequencing using Illumina MiSeq and MinION platforms. Hybrid assemblies were built with Unicycler, and the assembled genomes were compared to reference genomes using NUCmer, Cortex, and SplitsTree. Genomes were annotated using Prokka, and MGEs were identified with ISfinder and repeat match. Both isolates presented a 21.5-kb recombining region encompassing pmrCAB. In isolate 67659, this region originated from IC5, while in isolate 72554 multiple recombination events might have happened, with the 5-kb recombining region encompassing pmrCAB associated with an isolate representing IC4. We could not identify MGEs involved in the mobilization of pmrCAB in these isolates. In summary, A. baumannii belonging to IC7 can present additional sequence divergence due to homologous recombination across clonal lineages. Such variation does not seem to be driven by antibiotic pressure but could contribute to HGT mediating colistin resistance. IMPORTANCE Colistin resistance rates among Acinetobacter baumannii clinical isolates have increased over the last 20 years. Despite reports of the spread of plasmid-mediated colistin resistance among Enterobacterales, the presence of mcr-type genes in Acinetobacter spp. remains rare, and reduced colistin susceptibility is mainly associated with the acquisition of nonsynonymous mutations in pmrCAB. We have recently demonstrated that distinct pmrCAB sequences are associated with different A. baumannii International Clones (IC). In this study, we identified the presence of homologous recombination as an additional cause of genetic variation in this operon, which, to the best of our knowledge, was not mediated by mobile genetic elements. Even though this phenomenon was observed in both colistin-susceptible and -resistant isolates, it has the potential to contribute to the spread of resistance-conferring alleles, leading to reduced susceptibility to this last-resort antimicrobial agent.