Front Mol Biosci. 2021 Sep 9;8:688357. doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2021.688357. eCollection 2021.
Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) are resistant to beta-lactams, but synergistic activity between beta-lactams and glycopeptides/lipopeptides is common. Many have attributed this synergy to the beta-lactam-glycopeptide seesaw effect; however, this association has not been rigorously tested. The objective of this study was to determine whether the seesaw effect is necessary for synergy and to measure the impact of beta-lactam exposure on lipid metabolism. We selected for three isogenic strains with reduced susceptibility to vancomycin, daptomycin, and dalbavancin by serial passaging the MRSA strain N315. We used whole genome sequencing to identify genetic variants that emerged and tested for synergy between vancomycin, daptomycin, or dalbavancin in combination with 6 beta-lactams with variable affinity for staphylococcal penicillin binding proteins (PBPs), including nafcillin, meropenem, ceftriaxone, ceftaroline, cephalexin, and cefoxitin, using time-kills. We observed that the seesaw effect with each beta-lactam was variable and the emergence of the seesaw effect for a particular beta-lactam was not necessary for synergy between that beta-lactam and vancomycin, daptomycin, or dalbavancin. Synergy was more commonly observed with vancomycin and daptomycin based combinations than dalbavancin in time-kills. Among the beta-lactams, cefoxitin and nafcillin were the most likely to exhibit synergy using the concentrations tested, while cephalexin was the least likely to exhibit synergy. Synergy was more common among the resistant mutants than the parent strain. Interestingly N315-D1 and N315-DAL0.5 both had mutations in vraTSR and walKR despite their differences in the seesaw effect. Lipidomic analysis of all strains exposed to individual beta-lactams at subinhibitory concentrations suggested that in general, the abundance of cardiolipins (CLs) and most free fatty acids (FFAs) positively correlated with the presence of synergistic effects while abundance of phosphatidylglycerols (PGs) and lysylPGs mostly negatively correlated with synergistic effects. In conclusion, the beta-lactam-glycopeptide seesaw effect and beta-lactam-glycopeptide synergy are distinct phenomena. This suggests that the emergence of the seesaw effect may not have clinical importance in terms of predicting synergy. Further work is warranted to characterize strains that don't exhibit beta-lactam synergy to identify which strains should be targeted with combination therapy and which ones cannot and to further investigate the potential role of CLs in mediating synergy.