Clonal Confinement of a Highly Mobile Resistance Element Driven by Combination Therapy in Rhodococcus equi

Sonsiray Álvarez-Narváez, Steeve Giguère, Elisa Anastasi, Jack Hearn, Mariela Scortti, José A Vázquez-Boland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Antibiotic use has been linked to changes in the population structure of human pathogens and the clonal expansion of multidrug-resistant (MDR) strains among healthcare- and community-acquired infections. Here we present a compelling example in a veterinary pathogen, Rhodococcus equi, the causative agent of a severe pulmonary infection affecting foals worldwide. We show that the erm(46) gene responsible for emerging macrolide resistance among equine R. equi isolates in the United States is part of a 6.9-kb transposable element, TnRErm46, actively mobilized by an IS481 family transposase. TnRErm46 is carried on an 87-kb conjugative plasmid, pRErm46, transferable between R. equi strains at frequencies up to 10-3 The erm(46) gene becomes stabilized in R. equi by pRErm46's apparent fitness neutrality and wholesale TnRErm46 transposition onto the host genome. This includes the conjugally exchangeable pVAPA virulence plasmid, enabling the possibility of cotransfer of two essential traits for survival in macrolide-treated foals in a single mating event. Despite its high horizontal transfer potential, phylogenomic analyses show that erm(46) is paradoxically confined to a specific R. equi clone, 2287. R. equi 2287 also carries a unique rpoBS531F mutation conferring high-level resistance to rifampin, systematically administered together with macrolides against rhodococcal pneumonia on equine farms. Our data illustrate that under sustained combination therapy, several independent "founder" genetic events are concurrently required for resistance, limiting not only its emergence but also, crucially, horizontal spread, ultimately determining multiresistance clonality.IMPORTANCE MDR clades arise upon acquisition of resistance traits, but the determinants of their clonal expansion remain largely undefined. Taking advantage of the unique features of Rhodococcus equi infection control in equine farms, involving the same dual antibiotic treatment since the 1980s (a macrolide and rifampin), this study sheds light into the determinants of multiresistance clonality and the importance of combination therapy in limiting the dissemination of mobile resistance elements. Clinically effective therapeutic alternatives against R. equi foal pneumonia are currently lacking, and the identified macrolide-rifampin MDR clone 2287 has serious implications. Still at early stages of evolution and local spread, R. equi 2287 may disseminate globally, posing a significant threat to the equine industry and, also, public health due to the risk of zoonotic transmission. The characterization of the 2287 clone and its resistance determinants will enable targeted surveillance and control interventions to tackle the emergence of MDR R. equi.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
Publication statusPrint publication - 15 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019 Álvarez-Narváez et al.


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/pharmacology
  • Bacterial Proteins/genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial/genetics
  • Macrolides/pharmacology
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Rhodococcus equi/drug effects
  • Virulence/genetics


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