Bacterial Genome wide association studies (bGWAS) and transcriptomics identifies cryptic antimicrobial resistance mechanisms in Acinetobacter baumannii

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the nosocomial pathogen, Acinetobacter baumannii, is becoming a serious public health threat. While some mechanisms of AMR have been reported, understanding novel mechanisms of resistance is critical for identifying emerging resistance. One of the first steps in identifying novel AMR mechanisms is performing genotype/phenotype association studies. However, performing genotype/phenotype association studies is complicated by the plastic nature of the A. baumannii pan-genome.

In this study, we compared the antibiograms of 12 antimicrobials associated with multiple drug families for 84 A. baumannii isolates, many isolated in Arizona, USA. In silico screening of these genomes for known AMR mechanisms failed to identify clear correlations for most drugs. We then performed a genome wide association study (GWAS) looking for associations between all possible 21-mers; this approach generally failed to identify mechanisms that explained the resistance phenotype. In order to decrease the genomic noise associated with population stratification, we compared four phylogenetically-related pairs of isolates with differing susceptibility profiles. RNA-Sequencing (RNA-Seq) was performed on paired isolates and differentially expressed genes were identified. In these isolate pairs, we identified four different potential mechanisms, highlighting the difficulty of broad AMR surveillance in this species. To verify and validate differential expression, amplicon sequencing was performed. These results suggest that a diagnostic platform based on gene expression rather than genomics alone may be beneficial in certain surveillance efforts.

The implementation of such advanced diagnostics coupled with increased AMR surveillance will potentially improve A. baumannii infection treatment and patient outcomes.

Authors: Chandler Roe, Charles H.D. Williamson, Adam J. Vazquez, Kristen Kyger, Michael Valentine, Jolene R. Bowers, Paul D. Phillips, Veronica Harrison, Elizabeth Driebe, David M. Engelthaler, Jason W. Sahl