Antibiotic-resistant bacteria represent a major threat to our ability to treat bacterial infections. Two factors that determine the evolutionary success of antibiotic resistance mutations are their impact on resistance level and the fitness cost. Recent studies suggest that resistance mutations commonly show epistatic interactions, which would complicate predictions of their stability in bacterial populations. We analyzed 13 different chromosomal resistance mutations and 10 host strains of Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli to address two main questions. (i) Are there epistatic interactions between different chromosomal resistance mutations? (ii) How does the strain background and genetic distance influence the effect of chromosomal resistance mutations on resistance and fitness? Our results show that the effects of combined resistance mutations on resistance and fitness are largely predictable and that epistasis remains rare even when up to four mutations were combined. Furthermore, a majority of the mutations, especially target alteration mutations, demonstrate strain-independent phenotypes across different species. This study extends our understanding of epistasis among resistance mutations and shows that interactions between different resistance mutations are often predictable from the characteristics of the individual mutations.
The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria imposes an urgent threat to public health. The ability to forecast the evolutionary success of resistant mutants would help to combat dissemination of antibiotic resistance. Previous studies have shown that the phenotypic effects (fitness and resistance level) of resistance mutations can vary substantially depending on the genetic context in which they occur. We conducted a broad screen using many different resistance mutations and host strains to identify potential epistatic interactions between various types of resistance mutations and to determine the effect of strain background on resistance phenotypes. Combinations of several different mutations showed a large amount of phenotypic predictability, and the majority of the mutations displayed strain-independent phenotypes. However, we also identified a few outliers from these patterns, illustrating that the choice of host organism can be critically important when studying antibiotic resistance mutations.