Association of Neisseria gonorrhoeae Plasmids With Distinct Lineages and The Economic Status of Their Country of Origin.
Cehovin A., Jolley KA., Maiden MCJ., Harrison OB., Tang CM.
Plasmids are vehicles for horizontal gene transfer between bacteria, and in Neisseria gonorrhoeae plasmids can mediate high-level antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Using genomic and phylogenetic analyses, we show that plasmids are widespread in a collection of 3724 gonococcal isolates from 56 countries, and characterized the conjugative, β-lactamase and cryptic plasmids. We found that variants of the conjugative plasmid (which can mediate tetracycline resistance) and the β-lactamase plasmid expressing TEM-135 are associated with distinct gonococcal lineages. Furthermore, AMR plasmids are significantly more prevalent in gonococci from less wealthy countries, highlighting the need for further studies. More than 94% of gonococci possess the cryptic plasmid, with its absence correlated with the presence of a novel chromosomal type IV secretion system. Our results reveal the extent of plasmid-mediated AMR in the gonococcus, particularly in less wealthy countries, where diagnostic and therapeutic options can be limited, and highlight the risk of their global spread.