Diard M, Sellin ME, Dolowschiak T, Arnoldini M, Ackermann M, Hardt WD
Curr. Biol. 24 (17) 2000-2005 [2014-09-08; online 2014-08-14]
Antibiotics are powerful therapeutics but are not equally effective against all cells in bacterial populations. Bacteria that express an antibiotic-tolerant phenotype ("persisters") can evade treatment . Persisters can cause relapses of the infection after the end of the therapy . It is still poorly understood whether persistence affects the evolution of bacterial virulence. During infections, persisters have been found preferentially at particular sites within the host [3, 4]. If bacterial virulence factors are required to reach such sites, treatment with antibiotics could impose selection on the expression of virulence genes, in addition to their well-established effects on bacterial resistance. Here, we report that treatment with antibiotics selects for virulence and fosters transmissibility of Salmonella Typhimurium. In a mouse model for Salmonella diarrhea, treatment with the broad-spectrum antibiotic ciprofloxacin reverses the outcome of competition between wild-type bacteria and avirulent mutants that can spontaneously arise during within-host evolution . While avirulent mutants take over the gut lumen and abolish disease transmission in untreated mice, ciprofloxacin tilts the balance in favor of virulent, wild-type bacteria. This is explained by the need for virulence factors to invade gut tissues and form a persistent reservoir. Avirulent mutants remain in the gut lumen and are eradicated. Upon cessation of antibiotic treatment, tissue-lodged wild-type pathogens reseed the gut lumen and thereby facilitate disease transmissibility to new hosts. Our results suggest a general principle by which antibiotic treatment can promote cooperative virulence during within-host evolution, increase duration of transmissibility, and thereby enhance the spread of an infectious disease.