The two-component system ChtRS contributes to chlorhexidine tolerance in Enterococcus faecium

Ana M. Guzmán Prieto, Jessica Wijngaarden, Johanna C. Braat, Malbert R.C. Rogers, Eline Majoor, Ellen C. Brouwer, Xinglin Zhang, Jumamurat R. Bayjanov, Marc J.M. Bonten, Rob J.L. Willems, Willem Van Schaik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Enterococcus faecium is one of the primary causes of nosocomial infections. Disinfectants are commonly used to prevent infections with multidrugresistant E. faecium in hospitals. Worryingly, E. faecium strains that exhibit tolerance to disinfectants have already been described. We aimed to identify and characterize E. faecium genes that contribute to tolerance to the disinfectant chlorhexidine (CHX). We used a transposon mutant library, constructed in a multidrug-resistant E. faecium bloodstream isolate, to perform a genome-wide screen to identify genetic determinants involved in tolerance to CHX. We identified a putative two-component system (2CS), composed of a putative sensor histidine kinase (ChtS) and a cognate DNAbinding response regulator (ChtR), which contributed to CHX tolerance in E. faecium. Targeted chtR and chtS deletion mutants exhibited compromised growth in the presence of CHX. Growth of the chtR and chtS mutants was also affected in the presence of the antibiotic bacitracin. The CHX- and bacitracin-tolerant phenotype of E. faecium E1162 was linked to a unique, nonsynonymous single nucleotide polymorphism in chtR. Transmission electron microscopy showed that upon challenge with CHX, the ΔchtR and ΔchtS mutants failed to divide properly and formed long chains. Normal growth and cell morphology were restored when the mutations were complemented in trans. Morphological abnormalities were also observed upon exposure of the ΔchtR and ΔfchtS mutants to bacitracin. The tolerance to both chlorhexidine and bacitracin provided by ChtRS in E. faecium highlights the overlap between responses to disinfectants and antibiotics and the potential for the development of cross-tolerance for these classes of antimicrobials.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02122-16
JournalAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Enterococcus
  • bacitracin
  • biocides
  • chlorhexidine
  • disinfectants
  • tolerance


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