Anti-persister efficacy of colistin and meropenem against uropathogenic Escherichia coli is dependent on environmental conditions

Publication Name

Microbiology (Reading, England)


Antibiotic persistence is a phenomenon observed when genetically susceptible cells survive long-term exposure to antibiotics. These 'persisters' are an intrinsic component of bacterial populations and stem from phenotypic heterogeneity. Persistence to antibiotics is a concern for public health globally, as it increases treatment duration and can contribute to treatment failure. Furthermore, there is a growing array of evidence that persistence is a 'stepping-stone' for the development of genetic antimicrobial resistance. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a major contributor to antibiotic consumption worldwide, and are known to be both persistent (i.e. affecting the host for a prolonged period) and recurring. Currently, in clinical settings, routine laboratory screening of pathogenic isolates does not determine the presence or the frequency of persister cells. Furthermore, the majority of research undertaken on antibiotic persistence has been done on lab-adapted bacterial strains. In the study presented here, we characterized antibiotic persisters in a panel of clinical uropathogenic Escherichia coli isolates collected from hospitals in the UK and Australia. We found that a urine-pH mimicking environment not only induces higher levels of antibiotic persistence to meropenem and colistin than standard laboratory growth conditions, but also results in rapid development of transient colistin resistance, regardless of the genetic resistance profile of the isolate. Furthermore, we provide evidence for the presence of multiple virulence factors involved in stress resistance and biofilm formation in the genomes of these isolates, whose activities have been previously shown to contribute to the formation of persister cells.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access







Link to publisher version (DOI)