Within-host evolution of Burkholderia Pseudomallei during chronic infection of seven Australasian cystic fibrosis patients

Linda T. Viberg, Derek S. Sarovich, Timothy J. Kidd, James B. Geake, Scott C. Bell, Bart J. Currie, Erin P. Price

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    Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder characterized by progressive lung function decline. CF patients are at an increased risk of respiratory infections, including those by the environmental bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of melioidosis. Here, we compared the genomes of B. pseudomallei isolates collected between ~4 and 55 months apart from seven chronically infected CF patients. Overall, the B. pseudomallei strains showed evolutionary patterns similar to those of other chronic infections, including emergence of antibiotic resistance, genome reduction, and deleterious mutations in genes involved in virulence, metabolism, environmental survival, and cell wall components. We documented the first reported B. pseudomallei hypermutators, which were likely caused by defective Mut S. Further, our study identified both known and novel molecular mechanisms conferring resistance to three of the five clinically important antibiotics for melioidosis treatment. Our report highlights the exquisite adaptability of microorganisms to long-term persistence in their environment and the ongoing challenges of antibiotic treatment in eradicating pathogens in the CF lung. Convergent evolution with other CF pathogens hints at a degree of predictability in bacterial evolution in the CF lung and potential targeted eradication of chronic CF infections in the future. 

    IMPORTANCE Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of melioidosis, is an environmental opportunistic bacterium that typically infects immunocompromised people and those with certain risk factors such as cystic fibrosis (CF). Patients with CF tend to develop chronic melioidosis infections, for reasons that are not well understood. This report is the first to describe B. pseudomallei evolution within the CF lung during chronic infection. We show that the pathways by which B. pseudomallei adapts to the CF lung are similar to those seen in better-studied CF pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, and Burkholderia cepacia complex species. Adaptations include the accumulation of antibiotic resistance, loss of nonessential genes, metabolic alterations, and virulence factor attenuation. Known and novel mechanisms of resistance to three of the five antibiotics used in melioidosis treatment were identified. Similar pathways of evolution in CF pathogens, including B. pseudomallei, provide exciting avenues for more-targeted treatment of chronic, recalcitrant infections.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere00356-17
    Pages (from-to)1-7
    Number of pages17
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


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