Glycopeptidolipid Defects Leading to Rough Morphotypes of Mycobacterium abscessus Do Not Confer Clinical Antibiotic Resistance

Yizhak Hershko, Amos Adler, Daniel Barkan, Michal Meir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Mycobacterium abscessus is an emerging pathogen causing severe pulmonary infections. Within chronically infected patients, M. abscessus isolates undergo molecular changes leading to increased virulence and antibiotic resistance. Specifically, mutations in glycopeptidolipid (GPL) synthesis genes, leading to the rough phenotype, are associated with invasive, nonremitting infections and a severe clinical course. It has been unclear whether GPL defects confer antibiotic resistance independently of other molecular changes. We used transposon technology to isolate a rough (GPL-defective; Tn MABS_4099cZeoR) mutant and compare it to a fully isogenic parent strain (ATCC 19977) bearing wild-type zeocin resistance (WTZeoR). Antibiotic susceptibility profiles of Tn_4099cZeoR and WTZeoR were tested and compared using the Sensititre RAPMYCOI antimicrobial susceptibility test plate. MICs were evaluated within clinically relevant values according to the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) standards. We found that M. abscessus with rough colony morphotype (Tn_4009c) had comparable antibiotic susceptibility to its smooth isogenic WT counterpart. Small differences (a 1:2 dilution) in MICs were found for imipenem, cefoxitin, and tigecycline, yet those small differences did not change the clinical susceptibility report for these antibiotics, as they fell within the same CLSI cutoffs for resistance. While small alternations in susceptibility to imipenem, cefoxitin, and tigecycline were noted, we conclude that the GPL mutations in M. abscessus did not confer clinically significant antibiotic resistance. Increased antibiotic resistance in the clinical setting may occur in an unrelated and parallel manner to GPL mutations. IMPORTANCE Mycobacterium abscessus chronically infects patients with preexisting lung diseases, leading to progressive deterioration in pulmonary function. The common perception among clinicians is that the rough phenotype is associated with progressive disease and severe clinical course, manifested as a widespread inflammatory response and resistance to antibacterials. However, as clinical isolates accumulate hundreds of mutations over the prolonged course of infection, it is unclear whether the rough phenotype per se is responsible for the antibiotic resistance seen in late-stage infections, or whether the resistance is related to other genetic changes in the bacteria. Previous studies mostly compared rough and smooth clinical isolates. Here, for the first time, we compared WT smooth bacteria to a specific rough, GPL-associated, otherwise-isogenic mutant. We determined that the rough morphotype had essentially identical antibiotic susceptibilities as the parent strain. The mechanistic basis for the antibiotic resistance observed in rough clinical isolates is therefore most probably related to other genetic determinants.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Mycobacterium abscessus
  • antibiotic resistance
  • antibiotics
  • glycopeptidolipid
  • resistance
  • rough


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