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Acquisition and Evolution of SXT-R391 Integrative Conjugative Elements in the Seventh-Pandemic Vibrio cholerae Lineage

Spagnoletti, Matteo, Ceccarelli, Daniela, Rieux, Adrien, Fondi, Marco, Taviani, Elisa, Fani, Renato, Colombo, Mauro M., Colwell, Rita R., Balloux, François
mBio 2014 v.5 no.4 pp. e01356-14
DNA, Vibrio cholerae, antibiotic resistance, cholera, databases, genomics, homologous recombination, horizontal gene transfer, hosts, interspersed repetitive sequences, morbidity, mortality, multiple drug resistance, pandemic, phenotype, phylogeny, single nucleotide polymorphism
SXT-R391 Integrative conjugative elements (ICEs) are self-transmissible mobile genetic elements able to confer multidrug resistance and other adaptive features to bacterial hosts, including Vibrio cholerae , the causative agent of cholera. ICEs are arranged in a mosaic genetic structure composed of a conserved backbone interspersed with variable DNA clusters located in conserved hot spots. In this study, we investigated ICE acquisition and subsequent microevolution in pandemic V. cholerae . Ninety-six ICEs were retrieved from publicly available sequence databases from V. cholerae clinical strains and were compared to a set of reference ICEs. Comparative genomics highlighted the existence of five main ICE groups with a distinct genetic makeup, exemplified by ICE Vch Ind5, ICE Vch Moz10, SXT, ICE Vch Ind6, and ICE Vch Ban11. ICE Vch Ind5 (the most frequent element, represented by 70 of 96 elements analyzed) displayed no sequence rearrangements and was characterized by 46 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNP analysis revealed that recent inter-ICE homologous recombination between ICE Vch Ind5 and other ICEs circulating in gammaproteobacteria generated ICE Vch Moz10, ICE Vch Ind6, and ICE Vch Ban11. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses indicated that ICE Vch Ind5 and SXT were independently acquired by the current pandemic V. cholerae O1 and O139 lineages, respectively, within a period of only a few years. IMPORTANCE SXT-R391 ICEs have been recognized as key vectors of antibiotic resistance in the seventh-pandemic lineage of V. cholerae , which remains a major cause of mortality and morbidity on a global scale. ICEs were acquired only recently in this clade and are acknowledged to be major contributors to horizontal gene transfer and the acquisition of new traits in bacterial species. We have reconstructed the temporal dynamics of SXT-R391 ICE acquisition and spread and have identified subsequent recombination events generating significant diversity in ICEs currently circulating among V. cholerae clinical strains. Our results showed that acquisition of SXT-R391 ICEs provided the V. cholerae seventh-pandemic lineage not only with a multidrug resistance phenotype but also with a powerful molecular tool for rapidly accessing the pan-genome of a large number of gammaproteobacteria.