Background Propionibacterium acnes is the target of antimicrobial treatments for acne vulgaris. Acquired resistance to erythromycin, clindamycin and tetracyclines has been reported in strains from diverse geographical loci, but the molecular basis of resistance, via mutations in genes encoding 23S and 16S rRNA, respectively, has so far only been elucidated for isolates from the U.K.
Objectives To determine whether similar or different resistance mechanisms occur in resistant P. acnes isolates from outside the U.K.
Methods The phenotypes and genotypes of 73 antibiotic-resistant strains of P. acnes obtained from the skin of acne patients in the U.K., U.S.A., France, Germany, Australia and Japan were compared. Antibiotic susceptibilities were determined by minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) measurements, and polymerase chain reaction and DNA sequencing were used to identify mutations in genes encoding rRNA.
Results Most erythromycin-resistant isolates (MIC90≥ 512 μg mL−1) were cross-resistant to clindamycin but at a much lower level (MIC90≥ 64 μg mL−1). As in the U.K., resistance to erythromycin was associated with point mutations in 23S rRNA in 49 of 58 strains. An A→G transition at Escherichia coli equivalent base 2058 was present in 24 strains. This gave a unique cross-resistance phenotype against a panel of macrolide, lincosamide and type B streptogramin antibiotics. Two further point mutations (at E. coli equivalent bases 2057 and 2059) were identified (in three and 22 isolates, respectively) and these were also associated with specific cross-resistance patterns originally identified in isolates from the U.K. However, nine of 10 erythromycin resistant-strains from Germany did not exhibit any of the three base mutations identified and, in six cases, cross-resistance patterns were atypical. Consistent with previous U.K. data, 34 of 38 tetracycline-resistant strains carried a base mutation at E. coli 16S rRNA equivalent base 1058. Tetracycline-resistant isolates displayed varying degrees of cross-resistance to doxycycline and minocycline, but isolates from the U.S.A. had higher MICs for minocycline (4–16 μg mL−1) than isolates from other countries and, in particular, Australia. All the P. acnes isolates resistant to one or more of the commonly used antiacne antibiotics were sensitive to penicillin, fusidic acid, chloramphenicol and the fluoroquinolone, nadifloxacin. All but one isolate (from the U.K.) were sensitive to trimethoprim.
Conclusions This study shows that 23S and 16S mutations identified in the U.K. conferring antibiotic resistance in P. acnes are distributed widely. However, resistant strains were isolated in which mutations could not be identified, suggesting that as yet uncharacterized resistance mechanisms have evolved. This is the first report of high-level resistance to minocycline and is of concern as these strains are predicted to be clinically resistant and are unlikely to remain confined to the U.S.A. Epidemiological studies are urgently required to monitor how resistant strains are selected, how they spread and to ascertain whether the prevalence of resistance correlates with antibiotic usage patterns in the different countries.