The recent expansion of the H30 subclone of Escherichia coli sequence type 131 (ST131) and its CTX-M-15-associated H30Rx subset remains unexplained. Although ST131 H30 typically exhibits fluoroquinolone resistance, so do multiple other E. coli lineages that have not expanded similarly. To determine whether H30 isolates have more intense fluoroquinolone resistance than other fluoroquinolone-resistant E. coli isolates and to identify possible mechanisms, we determined the MICs for four fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin, and norfloxacin) among 89 well-characterized, genetically diverse fluoroquinolone-resistant E. coli isolates (48 non-H30 and 41 H30 [23 H30Rx and 18 H30 non-Rx]). We compared the MICs with the H30 and H30Rx status, the presence/number of nonsynonymous mutations in gyrA, parC, and parE, the presence of aac(6′)-1b-cr (an aminoglycoside/fluoroquinolone agent-modifying enzyme), and the efflux pump activity (measured as organic solvent tolerance [OST]). Among 1,518 recent E. coli clinical isolates, ST131 H30 predominated clonally, both overall and among the fluoroquinolone-resistant isolates. Among the 89 study isolates, compared with non-H30 isolates, H30 isolates exhibited categorically higher MICs for all four fluoroquinolone agents, higher absolute ciprofloxacin and norfloxacin MICs, more nonsynonymous mutations in gyrA, parC, and parE (specifically gyrA D87N, parC E84V, and parE I529L), and a numerically higher prevalence of (H30Rx-associated) aac(6′)-1b-cr but lower OST scores. All putative resistance mechanisms were significantly associated with the MICs [for aac(6′)-1b-cr: ciprofloxacin and norfloxacin only]. parC D87N corresponded with ST131 H30 and parE I529L with ST131 generally. Thus, more intense fluoroquinolone resistance may provide ST131 H30, especially H30Rx [if aac(6′)-1b-cr positive], with subtle fitness advantages over other fluoroquinolone-resistant E. coli strains. This urges both parsimonious fluoroquinolone use and a search for other fitness-enhancing traits within ST131 H30.
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