Evolution of mobile genetic element composition in an epidemic methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: temporal changes correlated with frequent loss and gain events

05 Sep 2017

Background: Horizontal transfer of mobile genetic elements (MGEs) that carry virulence and antimicrobial resistance genes mediates the evolution of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and the emergence of new MRSA clones. Most MRSA lineages show an association with specific MGEs and the evolution of MGE composition following clonal expansion has not been widely studied. Results: We investigated the genomes of 1193 S. aureus bloodstream isolates, 1169 of which were MRSA, collected in the UK and the Republic of Ireland between 2001 and 2010. The majority of isolates belonged to clonal complex (CC)22 (n=923), which contained diverse MGEs including elements that were found in other MRSA lineages. Several MGEs showed variable distribution across the CC22 phylogeny, including two antimicrobial resistance plasmids (pWBG751-like and SAP078A-like, carrying erythromycin and heavy metal resistance genes, respectively), a pathogenicity island carrying the enterotoxin C gene and two phage types Sa1int and Sa6int. Multiple gains and losses of these five MGEs were identified in the CC22 phylogeny using ancestral state reconstruction. Analysis of the temporal distribution of the five MGEs between 2001 and 2010 revealed an unexpected reduction in prevalence of the two plasmids and the pathogenicity island, and an increase in the two phage types. This occurred across the lineage and was not correlated with changes in the relative prevalence of CC22, or of any sub-lineages within in. Conclusions: Ancestral state reconstruction coupled with temporal trend analysis demonstrated that epidemic MRSA CC22 has an evolving MGE composition, and indicates that this important MRSA lineage has continued to adapt to changing selective pressure since its emergence.