The increasing rate of infection and spread of antibiotic resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae poses an urgent threat to public health. Knowledge of the pathways and genes that support the emergence and spread of antibi- otic resistance is necessary to develop new strategies for surveillance, diagnosis, and treatment. Despite our understanding of the genes and alleles that confer resistance, significant knowledge gaps remain regarding the factors that contribute to the uneven distribution of resistance across the gonococcal species phylogeny. A core issue that remains poorly explored is the impact of resistance determinants on gonococcal fitness: to what extent do resistance determinants impact fitness, and, if they incur a fitness cost, how does the gonococcus adapt and mitigate these costs? In this proposal, we address these gaps through a comprehensive strategy linking experi- mental and computational identification of compensatory mutations with studies of their mechanisms of action. The overall goal of this project is to determine the impact of mutations that increase resistance to the two most clinically relevant antibiotics for treatment of gonorrhea, ciprofloxacin and ceftriaxone, on bacterial fitness. We will achieve this goal through three specific aims.
In Aim 1, we will determine the fitness costs of resistance alleles when transformed into susceptible isolates from different niches and with distinct phylogeny and identify compensatory mutations that mitigate these fitness costs through experimental evolution in the female mouse model. We will examine the two most common ciprofloxacin resistance-conferring alleles (gyrAS91F,D95G and parCS87R) in clinical isolates, and four ceftriaxone resistance-conferring alleles (two variants of penA, the lethal target of ceftriaxone, and newly described variants in rpoB and rpoD), and evaluate the dependence of compen- satory pathways on genomic background.
In Aim 2, we will leverage our collection of over 7500 gonococcal genomes from clinical isolates for which we have antibiotic-resistance phenotypes and employ population ge- nomics methods to identify potential compensatory mutations and test these in the mouse model. Moreover, we will define the allelic diversity and distribution of candidates identified in Aim 1.
In Aim 3, we will determine the mechanism of action of confirmed compensatory mutations arising from the studies in Aims 1 & 2 using an integrative strategy that examines growth and morphology, transcriptomics, metabolomics, and directed studies of biochemical function. We will also build on preliminary data on compensatory mutations in acnB and mleN for ceftriaxone resistance and on the thiamine biosynthesis pathway in gyrA-mediated quinolone resistance. This interdisciplinary project brings together the complementary and non-overlapping expertise of three lead- ing investigators in the biology and genetics of antibiotic resistance in N. gonorrhoeae, linking the mouse model of gonococcal infection (Dr. Jerse), population genomics (Dr. Grad), and biochemical and physiological charac- terization of resistance-related variants (Dr. Nicholas).

Public Health Relevance

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea poses an immense threat to public health. Despite successes in identifying the genetic basis of antibiotic resistance, the genes and pathways that modulate the fitness costs incurred by resistance-conferring alleles and thus facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of these resistance determinants remain poorly understood. This proposal will address these gaps by applying a synergistic combination of approaches: identifying new compensatory mutations during competitive co-infections in the mouse model of gonorrhea, application of systematic population genomics-informed methods to identify compensatory mutations in human isolates, and comprehensive experimental analysis to define their mechanisms.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Drug Discovery and Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance Study Section (DDR)
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Hiltke, Thomas J
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Harvard University
Schools of Public Health
United States
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