Gama, J.A., Zilhão, R. & Dionisio, F. (2017) Conjugation efficiency depends on intra and intercellular interactions between distinct plasmids: plasmids promote the immigration of other plasmids but repress co-colonizing plasmids.Plasmid, 93, 6-16. DOI:10.1016/j.plasmid.2017.08.003 (IF2017 2,228; Q3 Microbiology)
Conjugative plasmids encode the genes responsible for the synthesis of conjugative pili and plasmid transfer. Expression of the conjugative machinery (including conjugative pili) may be costly to bacteria, not only due to the energetic/metabolic cost associated with their expression but also because they serve as receptors for certain viruses. Consequently, the presence of two plasmids in the same cell may be disadvantageous to each plasmid, because they may impose a higher fitness cost on the host. Therefore, plasmids may encode mechanisms to cope with co-resident plasmids. Moreover, it is possible that the transfer rate of a plasmid is affected by the presence of a distinct plasmid in the recipient cell. In this work, we measured transfer rates of twelve natural plasmids belonging to seven incompatibility groups in three situations, namely when: (i) donor cells contain a plasmid and recipient cells are plasmid-free; (ii) donor cells contain two unrelated plasmids and recipient cells are plasmid-free; and (iii) half of the cells contain a given plasmid and the other half contain another, unrelated, plasmid. In the third situation, recipient cells of a plasmid are the donor cells of the other plasmid. We show that there are more negative interactions (reduction of a plasmid's conjugative efficiency) between plasmids if they reside in the same cell than if they reside in different cells. However, if plasmids interacted intercellularly, the transfer rate of one of the plasmids was often higher (when the unrelated conjugative plasmid was present in the recipient cell) than if the recipient cell was plasmid-free - a positive effect. Experimental data retrieved from the study of mutant plasmids not expressing conjugative pili on the cell surface suggest that positive effects result from a higher efficiency of mating pair formation. Overall, our results suggest that negative interactions are significantly more frequent when plasmids occupy the same cell. Such interactions may determine how antibiotic resistance disseminates in bacterial populations.