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Open Access Research article

Transcriptional responses of Burkholderia cenocepacia to polymyxin B in isogenic strains with diverse polymyxin B resistance phenotypes

Slade A Loutet1, Flaviana Di Lorenzo2, Chelsea Clarke1, Antonio Molinaro2 and Miguel A Valvano1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Human Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

2 Dipartimento di Chimica Organica e Biochimica, Università di Napoli Federico II, Naples, Italy

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:472  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-472

Published: 29 September 2011

Abstract

Background

Burkholderia cenocepacia is a Gram-negative opportunistic pathogen displaying high resistance to antimicrobial peptides and polymyxins. We identified mechanisms of resistance by analyzing transcriptional changes to polymyxin B treatment in three isogenic B. cenocepacia strains with diverse polymyxin B resistance phenotypes: the polymyxin B-resistant parental strain K56-2, a polymyxin B-sensitive K56-2 mutant strain with heptoseless lipopolysaccharide (LPS) (RSF34), and a derivative of RSF34 (RSF34 4000B) isolated through multiple rounds of selection in polymyxin B that despite having a heptoseless LPS is highly polymyxin B-resistant.

Results

A heptoseless LPS mutant of B. cenocepacia was passaged through multiple rounds of selection to regain high levels of polymyxin B-resistance. This process resulted in various phenotypic changes in the isolate that could contribute to polymyxin B resistance and are consistent with LPS-independent changes in the outer membrane. The transcriptional response of three B. cenocepacia strains to subinhibitory concentrations of polymyxin B was analyzed using microarray analysis and validated by quantitative Real Time-PCR. There were numerous baseline changes in expression between the three strains in the absence of polymyxin B. In both K56-2 and RSF34, similar transcriptional changes upon treatment with polymyxin B were found and included upregulation of various genes that may be involved in polymyxin B resistance and downregulation of genes required for the synthesis and operation of flagella. This last result was validated phenotypically as both swimming and swarming motility were impaired in the presence of polymyxin B. RSF34 4000B had altered the expression in a larger number of genes upon treatment with polymyxin B than either K56-2 or RSF34, but the relative fold-changes in expression were lower.

Conclusions

It is possible to generate polymyxin B-resistant isolates from polymyxin B-sensitive mutant strains of B. cenocepacia, likely due to the multifactorial nature of polymyxin B resistance of this bacterium. Microarray analysis showed that B. cenocepacia mounts multiple transcriptional responses following exposure to polymyxin B. Polymyxin B-regulated genes identified in this study may be required for polymyxin B resistance, which must be tested experimentally. Exposure to polymyxin B also decreases expression of flagellar genes resulting in reduced swimming and swarming motility.