Compensation of fitness costs and reversibility of antibiotic resistance mutations

Pia Schulz Zur Wiesch, Jan Engelstädter, Sebastian Bonhoeffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Strains of bacterial pathogens that have acquired mutations conferring antibiotic resistance often have a lower growth rate and are less invasive or transmissible initially than their susceptible counterparts. However, fitness costs of resistance mutations can be ameliorated by secondary site mutations. These so-called compensatory mutations may restore fitness in the absence and/or presence of antimicrobials. We review literature data and show that the fitness gains in the absence and presence of antibiotic treatment need not be correlated. The aim of this study is to gain a better conceptual grasp of how compensatory mutations with different fitness gains affect evolutionary trajectories, in particular reversibility. To this end, we developed a theoretical model with which we consider both a resistance and a compensation locus. We propose an intuitively understandable parameterization for the fitness values of the four resulting genotypes (wild type, resistance mutation only, compensatory mutation only, and both mutations) in the absence and presence of treatment. The differential fitness gains, together with the turnover rate and the mutation rate, strongly affected the success of antibacterial treatment, reversibility, and long-term abundance of resistant strains. We therefore propose that experimental studies of compensatory mutations should include fitness measurements of all possible genotypes in both the absence and presence of an antibiotic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2085-2095
Number of pages11
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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