The SOS response, a conserved regulatory network in bacteria that is induced in response to DNA damage, has been shown to be associated with the emergence of resistance to antibiotics. Previously, we demonstrated that heterogeneous (HeR) MRSA strains, when exposed to sub-inhibitory concentrations of oxacillin, were able to express a homogeneous high level of resistance (HoR). Moreover, we showed that oxacillin appeared to be the triggering factor of a β-lactam-mediated SOS response through lexA/recA regulators, responsible for an increased mutation rate and selection of a HoR derivative. In this work, we demonstrated, by selectively exposing to β-lactam and non-β-lactam cell wall inhibitors, that PBP1 plays a critical role in SOS-mediated recA activation and HeR-HoR selection. Functional analysis of PBP1 using an inducible PBP1-specific antisense construct showed that PBP1 depletion abolished both β-lactam-induced recA expression/activation and increased mutation rates during HeR/HoR selection. Furthermore, based on the observation that HeR/HoR selection is accompanied by compensatory increases in the expression of PBP1,-2, -2a, and -4, our study provides evidence that a combination of agents simultaneously targeting PBP1 and either PBP2 or PBP2a showed both in-vitro and in-vivo efficacy, thereby representing a therapeutic option for the treatment of highly resistant HoR-MRSA strains. The information gathered from these studies contributes to our understanding of β-lactam-mediated HeR/HoR selection and provides new insights, based on β-lactam synergistic combinations, that mitigate drug resistance for the treatment of MRSA infections.
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