Exposure to sub-inhibitory concentrations of gentamicin, ciprofloxacin and cefotaxime induces multidrug resistance and reactive oxygen species generation in meticillin-sensitiveStaphylococcus aureus

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The role of antibiotics below their MIC in the development of bacterial drug resistance is becoming increasingly important. We investigated the effect of sub-MICs of bactericidal antibiotics on the susceptibility pattern of Staphylococcus aureus and evaluated the role of free radicals.


A total of 12 S. aureus strains were recovered from pus samples and their antibiograms determined. The test isolates were treated with sub-MIC levels of tetracycline, gentamicin, ciprofloxacin and cefotaxime. Alterations in their respective breakpoints were observed along with measurements of free radical generation by nitro blue tetrazolium test.

Results/Key findings.

Gentamicin, ciprofloxacin and cefotaxime exposure significantly altered the breakpoints of exposed isolates against several tested antibiotics and higher levels of free radicals were generated after antibiotic exposure.


Our study demonstrates that sub-MIC levels of antimicrobials can lead to resistance and cross-resistance across several classes of antibiotics in wild strains of S. aureus, possibly by free radical production. The molecular mechanisms behind the acquisition of drug resistance at low antibiotic concentrations and the specific target genes of reactive oxygen speciesneed to be explored further.

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