An ancient family of mobile genomic islands introducing cephalosporinase and carbapenemase genes in Enterobacteriaceae

The exchange of mobile genomic islands (MGIs) between microorganisms is often mediated by phages, which may provide benefits to the phage’s host. The present study started with the identification of Enterobacter cloacae, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli isolates with exceptional cephalosporin and carbapenem resistance phenotypes from patients in a neonatal ward. To identify possible molecular connections between these isolates and their β-lactam resistance phenotypes, the respective bacterial genome sequences were compared. This unveiled the existence of a family of ancient MGIs that were probably exchanged before the species E. cloacae, K. pneumoniae and E. coli emerged from their common ancestry. A representative MGI from E. cloacae was named MIR17-GI, because it harbors the novel β-lactamase gene variant blaMIR17. Importantly, our observations show that the MIR17-GI-like MGIs harbor genes associated with high-level resistance to cephalosporins. Among them, MIR17-GI stands out because MIR17 also displays carbapenemase activity. As shown by mass spectrometry, the MIR17 carbapenemase is among the most abundantly expressed proteins of the respective E. cloacae isolate. Further, we show that MIR17-GI-like islands are associated with integrated P4-like prophages. This implicates phages in the spread of cephalosporin and carbapenem resistance amongst Enterobacteriaceae. The discovery of an ancient family of MGIs, mediating the spread of cephalosporinase and carbapenemase genes, is of high clinical relevance, because high-level cephalosporin and carbapenem resistance have serious implications for the treatment of patients with enterobacteriaceal infections.