Incremental Increase in Fitness Cost with Increased β-Lactam Resistance in Pneumococci Evaluated by Competition in an Infant Rat Nasal Colonization Model

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We evaluated the impact of resistant penicillin-binding protein (PBP) allele acquisition on the ability of penicillin-resistant (PEN-R) pneumococcal strains to compete with penicillin-susceptible (PEN-S) ancestors for upper-respiratory-tract (URT) colonization.


PEN-S serotype 2, 6B, and 9V strains were transformed into derivatives expressing an increasing number of PEN-R PBP forms (2X, 2X-1A, and 2X-1A-2B for serotype 2 and 2X, 2X-2B, and 2X-2B-1A for 6B and 9V). Infant rats were inoculated intranasally with a mix of a PEN-R and PEN-S strains. For consecutive days, samples were collected for assessment of the ratio of PEN-S to PEN-R cells colonizing the URT. The selective index (SI), defined as the change in the natural logarithm of the ratio of PEN-S to PEN-R strains from the inoculum to the nasal-wash samples, quantified differences in fitness.


SIs significantly >0 (indicating a cost of resistant allele acquisition) were observed 4-5 days after colonization in all but serotype 6B pbp2x transfomants. Additional replacements with low-affinity forms of pbp2b and pbp1a genes reduced further ability to compete in all strains.


The cost of penicillin-resistance acquisition for the Streptococcus pneumoniae strain competing with its susceptible ancestor to colonize the URT increases with the number of resistant pbp alleles acquired.

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