Paradoxical Hypersusceptibility of Drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis to β-lactam Antibiotics
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis) is considered innately resistant to β-lactam antibiotics. However, there is evidence that susceptibility to β-lactam antibiotics in combination with β–lactamase inhibitors is variable among clinical isolates, and these may present therapeutic options for drug-resistant cases. Here we report our investigation of susceptibility to β-lactam/β–lactamase inhibitor combinations among clinical isolates of M. tuberculosis, and the use of comparative genomics to understand the observed heterogeneity in susceptibility. Eighty-nine South African clinical isolates of varying first and second-line drug susceptibility patterns and two reference strains of M. tuberculosis underwent minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) determination to two β-lactams: amoxicillin and meropenem, both alone and in combination with clavulanate, a β–lactamase inhibitor. 41/91 (45%) of tested isolates were found to be hypersusceptible to amoxicillin/clavulanate relative to reference strains, including 14/24 (58%) of multiple drug-resistant (MDR) and 22/38 (58%) of extensively drug-resistant (XDR) isolates. Genome-wide polymorphisms identified using whole-genome sequencing were used in a phylogenetically-aware linear mixed model to identify polymorphisms associated with amoxicillin/clavulanate susceptibility. Susceptibility to amoxicillin/clavulanate was over-represented among isolates within a specific clade (LAM4), in particular among XDR strains. Twelve sets of polymorphisms were identified as putative markers of amoxicillin/clavulanate susceptibility, five of which were confined solely to LAM4. Within the LAM4 clade, ‘paradoxical hypersusceptibility’ to amoxicillin/clavulanate has evolved in parallel to first and second-line drug resistance. Given the high prevalence of LAM4 among XDR TB in South Africa, our data support an expanded role for β-lactam/β-lactamase inhibitor combinations for treatment of drug-resistant M. tuberculosis.