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Genetic analysis of vancomycin-variable Enterococcus faecium clinical isolates in Italy.

PURPOSE: To investigate the occurrence of vancomycin-variable enterococci (VVE) in a hospital in central Italy.

METHODS: vanA positive but vancomycin-susceptible Enterococcus faecium isolates (VVE-S) were characterized by antibiotic susceptibility tests, molecular typing (PFGE and MLST), and WGS approach. The reversion of VVE-S to a resistant phenotype was assessed by exposure to increasing vancomycin concentrations, and the revertant isolates were used in filter mating experiments. qPCR was used to analyze the plasmid copy number.

RESULTS: Eleven putative VVE-S were selected. WGS revealed two categories of vanA cluster plasmid located: the first type showed the lack of vanR, the deletion of vanS, and an intact vanH/vanA/vanX cluster; the second type was devoid of both vanR and vanS and showed a deletion of 544-bp at the 5'-end of the vanH. Strains (n = 7) carrying the first type of vanA cluster were considered VVE-S and were able to regain a resistance phenotype (VVE-R) in the presence of vancomycin, due to a 44-bp deletion in the promoter region of vanH/vanA/vanX, causing its constitutive expression. VVE-R strains were not able to transfer resistance by conjugation, and the resistance phenotype was unstable: after 11 days of growth without selective pressure, the revertants were still resistant but showed a lower vancomycin MIC. A higher plasmid copy number in the revertant strains was probably related to the resistance phenotype.

CONCLUSION: We highlight the importance of VVE transition to VRE under vancomycin therapy resulting in a potential failure treatment. We also report the first-time identification of VVE-S isolates pstS-null belonging to ST1478.

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