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Exploratory investigation of Bacteroides fragilis transcriptional response during in vitro exposure to subinhibitory concentration of metronidazole

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Bacteroides fragilis, member from commensal gut microbiota, is an important pathogen associated to endogenous infections and metronidazole remains a valuable antibiotic for the treatment of these infections, although bacterial resistance is widely reported. Considering the need of a better understanding on the global mechanisms by which B. fragilis survive upon metronidazole exposure, we performed a RNA-seq transcriptomic approach with validation of gene expression results by qPCR. Bacteria strains were selected after in vitro subcultures with subinhibitory concentration (SIC) of the drug. From a wild type B. fragilis ATCC 43859 four derivative strains were selected: first and fourth subcultures under metronidazole exposure and first and fourth subcultures after drug removal. According to global gene expression analysis, 2,146 protein coding genes were identified, of which a total of 1,618 (77%) were assigned to a Gene Ontology term (GO), indicating that most known cellular functions were taken. Among these 2,146 protein coding genes, 377 were shared among all strains, suggesting that they are critical for B. fragilis survival. In order to identify distinct expression patterns, we also performed a K-means clustering analysis set to 15 groups. This analysis allowed us to detect the major activated or repressed genes encoding for enzymes which act in several metabolic pathways involved in metronidazole response such as drug activation, defense mechanisms against superoxide ions, high expression level of multidrug efflux pumps, and DNA repair. The strains collected after metronidazole removal were functionally more similar to those cultured under drug pressure, reinforcing that drug-exposure lead to drastic persistent changes in the B. fragilis gene expression patterns. These results may help to elucidate B. fragilis response during metronidazole exposure, mainly at SIC, contributing with information about bacterial survival strategies under stress conditions in their environment.




de Freitas, M. C. R., Resende, J. A., Ferreira-Machado, A. B., Saji, G. D. R. Q., de Vasconcelos, A. T. R., da Silva, V. L., … Diniz, C. G. (2016). Exploratory investigation of Bacteroides fragilis transcriptional response during in vitro exposure to subinhibitory concentration of metronidazole. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7(SEP).

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