Researchers uncover key step to how antibiotic resistance spreads in hospitals

Researchers at St. Louis-based Washington University School of Medicine found a key step in the transmission of antibiotic resistance from one Acinetobacter bacterium to another, which helps reveal how drug resistance spreads through hospitals.

The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Acinetobacter strains carry the genetic blueprints for drug resistance on small loops of DNA called plasmids. The plasmids disable bacteria's self-defense systems so that they can inject copies of themselves into neighboring bacteria, conferring drug resistance on their bacterial neighbors, the researchers found.

The researchers found that mutating the plasmids so they could not disrupt the bacteria's defenses stopped these plasmids from spreading and causing drug resistance.

The findings provide a novel opening to interrupt the spread of drug resistance, the researchers said. Although the genes involved in the process have been identified, researchers must find compounds that stop plasmids from disrupting bacterial-defense systems.

"If we found an inhibitor, we could clean hospital surfaces with it and prevent the dissemination of drug resistance," said senior author Mario Feldman, PhD. "We need to find therapies that don't kill the bacteria but prevent it from becoming drug-resistant, so we can continue using our antibiotics into the future."

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