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Determination of Virulence-Associated Genes and Antimicrobial Resistance Profiles in Brucella Isolates Recovered from Humans and Animals in Iran Using NGS Technology

Brucellosis is a common zoonotic disease in Iran. Antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) Brucella isolates have been reported from different developing countries, posing an imminent health hazard. The objective of this study was to evaluate AMR and virulence-associated factors in Brucella isolates recovered from humans and animals in different regions of Iran using classical phenotyping and next generation sequencing (NGS) technology. Our findings revealed that B. melitensis is the most common species in bovines, small ruminants and camels. B. abortus was isolated only from one human case. Probable intermediate or resistant phenotype patterns for rifampicin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, ampicillin-sulbactam and colistin were found. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) identified mprF, bepG, bepF, bepC, bepE, and bepD in all isolates but failed to determine other classical AMR genes. Forty-three genes associated with five virulence factors were identified in the genomes of all Brucella isolates, and no difference in the distribution of virulence-associated genes was found. Of them, 27 genes were associated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), 12 genes were related to a type IV secretion system (virB1-B12), two were associated with the toll-interleukin-1 receptor (TIR) domain-containing proteins (btpA, btpB), one gene encoded the Rab2 interacting conserved protein A (ricA) and one was associated with the production of cyclic β-1,2 glucans (cgs). This is the first investigation reporting the molecular-based AMR and virulence factors in brucellae isolated from different animal hosts and humans in Iran. Iranian B. abortus and B. melitensis isolates are still in vitro susceptible to the majority of antibiotics used for the treatment of human brucellosis. WGS failed to determine classical AMR genes and no difference was found in the distribution of virulence-associated genes in all isolates. Still, the absence of classical AMR genes in genomes of resistant strains is puzzling, and investigation of phenotypic resistance mechanisms at the proteomic and transcriptomic levels is needed.

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