The Francis Crick Institute
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Evolution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis drug resistance in the genomic era.

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-10-31, 11:48 authored by Camus Nimmo, James Millard, Valwynne Faulkner, Johana Monteserin, Hannah Pugh, Eachan Oliver Johnson
Mycobacterium tuberculosis has acquired drug resistance to all drugs that have been used against it, including those only recently introduced into clinical practice. Compared to other bacteria, it has a well conserved genome due to its role as an obligate human pathogen that has adapted to a niche over five to ten thousand years. These features facilitate reconstruction and dating of M. tuberculosis phylogenies, giving key insights into how resistance has been acquired and spread globally. Resistance to each new drug has occurred within five to ten years of clinical use and has occurred even more rapidly with recently introduced drugs. In most cases, resistance-conferring mutations come with a fitness cost, but this can be overcome by compensatory mutations which restore fitness to that of wild-type bacteria. It is likely that M. tuberculosis acquires drug resistance while maintaining limited genomic variability due the generation of low frequency within-host variation, combined with ongoing purifying selection causing loss of variants without a clear fitness advantage. However, variants that do confer an advantage, such as drug resistance, can increase in prevalence amongst all bacteria within a host and become the dominant clone. These resistant strains can then be transmitted leading to primary drug resistant infection in a new host. As many countries move towards genomic methods for diagnosis of M. tuberculosis infection and drug resistance, it is important to be aware of the implications for the evolution of resistance. Currently, understanding of resistance-conferring mutations is incomplete, and some targeted genetic diagnostics create their own selective pressures. We discuss an example where a rifampicin resistance-conferring mutation which was not routinely covered by standard testing became dominant. Finally, resistance to new drugs such as bedaquiline and delamanid is caused by individually rare mutations occurring across a large mutational genomic target that have been detected over a short time, and do not provide statistical power for genotype-phenotype correlation - in contrast to longer-established drugs that form the backbone of drug-sensitive antituberculosis therapy. Therefore, we need a different approach to identify resistance-conferring mutations of new drugs before their resistance becomes widespread, abrogating their usefulness.


Crick (Grant ID: CC2169, Grant title: Johnson CC2169)