Bacterial Mechanisms of Antibiotic Resistance
Several mechanisms have evolved in bacteria which confer them with antibiotic resistance. These mechanisms can either chemically modify the antibiotic, render it inactive through physical removal from the cell, or modify target site so that it is not recognized by the antibiotic.
The most common mode is enzymatic inactivation of the antibiotic. An existing cellular enzyme is modified to react with the antibiotic in such a way that it no longer affects the microorganism. An alternative strategy utilized by many bacteria is the alteration of the antibiotic target site. These and other mechanisms are shown in the the figure and accompanying table below.
Mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in bacteria
The acquisition and spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria
The development of resistance is inevitable following the introduction of a new antibiotic. Initial rates of resistance to new drugs are normally on the order of 1%. However, modern uses of antibiotics have caused a huge increase in the number of resistant bacteria. In fact, within 8-12 years after wide-spread use, strains resistant to multiple drugs become widespread. Multiple drug resistant strains of some bacteria have reached the proportion that virtually no antibiotics are available for treatment.
Antibiotic resistance in bacteria may be an inherent trait of the organism (e.g. a particular type of cell wall structure) that renders it naturally resistant, or it may be acquired by means of mutation in its own DNA or acquisition of resistance-conferring DNA from another source.
Inherent (natural) resistance.
Vertical gene transfer
Once the resistance genes have developed, they are transferred directly to all the bacteria's progeny during DNA replication. This is known as vertical gene transfer or vertical evolution. The process is strictly a matter of Darwinian evolution driven by principles of natural selection: a spontaneous mutation in the bacterial chromosome imparts resistance to a member of the bacterial population. In the selective environment of the antibiotic, the wild type (non mutants) are killed and the resistant mutant is allowed to grow and flourish
Horizontal gene transfer
There are at least three possible mechanisms of HGT, equivalent to the three processes of genetic exchange in bacteria. These are transduction, transformation or conjugation. Conjugation occurs when there is direct cell-cell contact between two bacteria (which need not be closely related) and transfer of small pieces of DNA called plasmids takes place. This is thought to be the main mechanism of HGT.
Transformation is a process where parts of DNA are taken up by the bacteria from the external environment. This DNA is normally present in the external environment due to the death and lysis of another bacterium.
Transduction occurs when bacteria-specific viruses (bacteriophages) transfer DNA between two closely related bacteria.
Mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in bacteria
Tests for sensitivity and resistance to antibiotics. (Left) The size of the zones of inhibition of microbial growth surrounding the antibiotic disks on the plate are an indication of microbial susceptibility to the antibiotic. (Right) By the use of these disks it is also possible to detect the occurrence of individual mutants within the culture that have developed antibiotic resistance. This image shows a close-up of the novobiocin disk (marked by an arrow on the whole plate) near which individual mutant cells in the bacterial population that were resistant to the antibiotic and have given rise to small colonies within the zone of inhibition.