The antibiotic resistance arrow of time: Efflux pump induction is a general first step in the evolution of mycobacterial drug resistance

Aurelia M. Schmalstieg, Shashikant Srivastava, Serkan Belkaya, Devyani Deshpande, Claudia Meek, Richard Leff, Nicolai S C Van Oers, Tawanda Gumbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


We hypothesize that low-level efflux pump expression is the first step in the development of high-level drug resistance in mycobacteria. We performed 28-day azithromycin dose-effect and dose-scheduling studies in our hollow-fiber model of disseminated Mycobacterium avium-M. intracellulare complex. Both microbial kill and resistance emergence were most closely linked to the within-macrophage area under the concentration-time curve (AUC)/MIC ratio. Quantitative PCR revealed that subtherapeutic azithromycin exposures over 3 days led to a 56-fold increase in expression of MAV-3306, which encodes a putative ABC transporter, and MAV-1406, which encodes a putative major facilitator superfamily pump, in M. avium. By day 7, a subpopulation of M. avium with low-level resistance was encountered and exhibited the classic inverted U curve versus AUC/MIC ratios. The resistance was abolished by an efflux pump inhibitor. While the maximal microbial kill started to decrease after day 7, a population with high-level azithromycin resistance appeared at day 28. This resistance could not be reversed by efflux pump inhibitors. Orthologs of pumps encoded by MAV-3306 and MAV-1406 were identified in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae, Mycobacterium marinum, Mycobacterium abscessus, and Mycobacterium ulcerans. All had highly conserved protein secondary structures. We propose that induction of several efflux pumps is the first step in a general pathway to drug resistance that eventually leads to high-level chromosomal-mutation-related resistance in mycobacteria as ordered events in an "antibiotic resistance arrow of time."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4806-4815
Number of pages10
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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