Background Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of the high-mortality disease melioidosis, is a gram-negative bacterium that is naturally resistant to many antibiotics. There is no vaccine for melioidosis, and effective eradication is reliant on biphasic and prolonged antibiotic administration. The carbapenem drug meropenem is the current gold standard option for treating severe melioidosis. Intrinsic B. pseudomallei resistance toward meropenem has not yet been documented; however, resistance could conceivably develop over the course of infection, leading to prolonged sepsis and treatment failure. Methods We examined our 30-year clinical collection of melioidosis cases to identify B. pseudomallei isolates with reduced meropenem susceptibility. Isolates were subjected to minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) testing toward meropenem. Paired isolates from patients who had evolved decreased susceptibility were subjected to whole-genome sequencing. Select agent-compliant genetic manipulation was carried out to confirm the molecular mechanisms conferring resistance. Results We identified 11 melioidosis cases where B. pseudomallei isolates developed decreased susceptibility toward meropenem during treatment, including 2 cases not treated with this antibiotic. Meropenem MICs increased from 0.5-0.75 μg/mL to 3-8 μg/mL. Comparative genomics identified multiple mutations affecting multidrug resistance-nodulation-division (RND) efflux pump regulators, with concomitant overexpression of their corresponding pumps. All cases were refractory to treatment despite aggressive, targeted therapy, and 2 were associated with a fatal outcome. Conclusions This study confirms the role of RND efflux pumps in decreased meropenem susceptibility in B. pseudomallei. These findings have important ramifications for the diagnosis, treatment, and management of life-threatening melioidosis cases.
- antibiotic resistance
- RND efflux pump