Borderline methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus strains are a rather homogeneous group, characterized by MICs of penicillinase-resistant penicillins (PRPs) at or just below the susceptibility breakpoint. Other features unique to this group include the presence of a pBW15-like beta-lactamase plasmid, the association with phage complex 94/96, and the production of a PRP-hydrolyzing beta-lactamase activity in addition to the classical penicillinase activity. The four HindIII fragments of pBORa53, a pBW15-like plasmid from the well-studied borderline S. aureus strain a53, were cloned in Escherichia coli, sequenced and analyzed. The plasmid (17,334 bp in size) contains 14 open reading frames (ORFs) and a complete copy of transposon Tn552, which harbors the three genes of the bla complex (blaZ, blaR1, and blaI) necessary for penicillinase production. Among the other 11 ORFs identified, two were homologous to cadmium resistance determinants of Staphylococcus lugdunensis and to the cadD and cadX genes recently detected in S. aureus. Consistent with this, strain a53 was found to be cadmium resistant. From a collection of 30 S. aureus isolates with borderline PRP MIC levels, 27 matched strain a53 in the positive amplification reactions with all of the four primer pairs targeting the cadD-cadX region, the presence of the 17.3-kb plasmid, and the level of cadmium resistance. The well-established S. aureus laboratory strain ATCC 29213 was also found to express cadD-cadX-mediated cadmium resistance. pBORa53 could be re-isolated from transformants obtained by transferring it into a PRP-susceptible recipient. However, while the transformants demonstrated levels of cadmium and penicillin resistance similar to those of strain a53, they remained fully susceptible to PRPs.
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