A qnrD-Plasmid Promotes Biofilm Formation and Class 1 Integron Gene Cassette Rearrangements in Escherichia coli


Bacteria within biofilms may be exposed to sub-minimum inhibitory concentrations (sub-MICs) of antibiotics. Cell-to-cell contact within biofilms facilitates horizontal gene transfers and favors induction of the SOS response. Altogether, it participates in the emergence of antibiotic resistance. Aminoglycosides at sub-MICs can induce the SOS response through NO accumulation in E. coli carrying the small plasmid with the quinolone resistance qnrD gene (pDIJ09-518a). In this study, we show that in E. coli pDIJ09-518a, the SOS response triggered by sub-MICs of aminoglycosides has important consequences, promoting genetic rearrangement in class 1 integrons and biofilm formation. We found that the integrase expression was increased in E. coli carrying pDIJ09-518a in the presence of tobramycin, which was not observed for the WT isogenic strain that did not carry the qnrD-plasmid. Moreover, we showed that biofilm production was significantly increased in E. coli WT/pDIJ09-518a compared to the WT strain. However, such a higher production was decreased when the Hmp-NO detoxification pathway was fully functional by overexpressing Hmp. Our results showing that a qnrD-plasmid can promote biofilm formation in E. coli and potentiate the acquisition and spread of resistance determinants for other antibiotics complicate the attempts to counteract antibiotic resistance and prevention of biofilm development even further. We anticipate that our findings emphasize the complex challenges that will impact the decisions about antibiotic stewardship, and other decisions related to retaining antibiotics as effective drugs and the development of new drugs.