The emergence of multidrug-resistant bacteria and the limited availability of new antibiotics are of increasing clinical concern. A compounding factor is the ability of microorganisms to form biofilms (communities of cells encased in a protective extracellular matrix) that are intrinsically resistant to antibiotics. Enterococcus faecalis is an opportunistic pathogen that readily forms biofilms and also has the propensity to acquire resistance determinants via horizontal gene transfer. There is intense interest in the genetic basis for intrinsic and acquired antibiotic resistance in E. faecalis, since clinical isolates exhibiting resistance to multiple antibiotics are not uncommon. We performed a genetic screen using a library of transposon (Tn) mutants to identify E. faecalis biofilm-associated antibiotic resistance determinants. Five Tn mutants formed wild-type biofilms in the absence of antibiotics but produced decreased biofilm biomass in the presence of antibiotic concentrations that were subinhibitory to the parent strain. Genetic determinants responsible for biofilm-associated antibiotic resistance include components of the quorum-sensing system (fsrA, fsrC, and gelE) and two glycosyltransferase (GTF) genes (epaI and epaOX). We also found that the GTFs play additional roles in E. faecalis resistance to detergent and bile salts, maintenance of cell envelope integrity, determination of cell shape, polysaccharide composition, and conjugative transfer of the pheromone-inducible plasmid pCF10. The epaOX gene is located in a variable extended region of the enterococcal polysaccharide antigen (epa) locus. These data illustrate the importance of GTFs in E. faecalis adaptation to diverse growth conditions and suggest new targets for antimicrobial design.
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