Klebsiella pneumoniae (Kp) is an infamous cause of multi-drug resistant (MDR) healthcare-associated infections and several MDR clones are globally distributed. A small number of drug-susceptible clones have also become globally distributed, causing severe community-acquired infections. These ‘hypervirulent’ clones are distinguished by expression of highly serum-resistant K1/K2 capsules, plus high prevalence of acquired virulence determinants. While hypervirulence and drug resistance are usually mutually exclusive, there are now increasing reports of convergent strains that are both highly virulent and MDR – a potentially disastrous combination. To better understand the risks of MDR-virulence convergence, we leveraged a collection of >2200 Kp genomes to identify 28 common clones (n≥10 genomes each), and performed a genomic evolutionary comparison. Eight MDR and 6 hypervirulent clones were identified by acquired resistance and virulence gene prevalence. Chromosomal recombination, capsule locus diversity, pan-genome, plasmid and phage dynamics were compared. MDR clones were highly diverse, with frequent chromosomal recombination generating extensive capsule locus diversity. Additional pan-genome diversity was driven by frequent acquisition/loss of both plasmids and phage. In contrast, chromosomal recombination was rare in the hypervirulent clones, which were each associated with only a single capsule locus and showed significant reduction in pan-genome diversity, largely driven by a reduction in plasmid diversity. These data suggest that hypervirulent clones are subject to some sort of constraint for horizontal gene-transfer. Hence we predict MDR clones pose the greatest risk for MDR-virulence convergence because they are more likely to acquire virulence genes than hypervirulent clones are to acquire resistance genes.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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