Ciprofloxacin facilitates the transfer of XDR plasmids from commensal E. coli into epidemic fluoroquinolone-resistant Shigella sonnei

The global dissemination of a ciprofloxacin-resistant (cipR) S. sonnei clone outlines the mobility of this important agent of diarrheal disease, and threatens the utility of ciprofloxacin as a first-line antimicrobial for shigellosis. Here, we aimed to track the emergence of cipR S. sonnei in Vietnam to understand how novel antimicrobial resistant (AMR) Shigella clones become established in new locations. From 2014 to 2016, we isolated and genome sequenced 79 S. sonnei from children hospitalized with dysenteric diarrhea in southern Vietnam. The novel cipR S. sonnei clone displaced the resident ciprofloxacin-susceptible lineage while acquiring resistance against third-generation cephalosporins, macrolides, and aminoglycosides. This process was not the result of a single clonal expansion, as we identified at least thirteen independent acquisitions of ESBL-encoding plasmids. The frequency and diversity of the variable AMR repertoire in an expanding clonal background of S. sonnei is unprecedented and we speculated that it was facilitated by horizontal gene transfer from commensal organisms in the human gut. Consequently, we characterized non-Shigella Enterobacteriaceae from Shigella-infected and healthy children by shotgun metagenomics. We identified a wide array of AMR genes and plasmids in the commensal Enterobacteriaceae, including an E. coli isolated from a Shigella-infected child with an identical ESBL plasmid to that characterized in the infecting S. sonnei. We confirmed that these AMR plasmids could be exchanged between commensal E. coli and S. sonnei and found that supplementation of ciprofloxacin into the conjugation media significantly increased the conjugation frequency of IncI/blaCTX-M-15, IncB/O/blaCTX-M-27 and IncF/blaCTX-M-27 plasmids. In a setting with high antimicrobial use and a high prevalence of AMR commensals, cipR S. sonnei may be propelled towards pan-resistance by adherence to outdated international treatment guidelines. Our work highlights the role of the gut microbiota in transferring resistance plasmids into enteric pathogens and provides essential data to restrict the use of ciprofloxacin globally.

Authors: Pham Thanh Pham, To Nguyen Thi Nguyen, Duong Vu Thuy, Hao Chung The, Felicity Alcock, Christine Boinett, Ho Ngoc Dan Thanh, Ha Thanh Tuyen, Guy E Thwaites, Maia A Rabaa, Stephen Baker