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Resistance to amoxicillin-clavulanate, a widely used beta-lactam/beta-lactamase inhibitor combination antibiotic, is rising globally, and yet susceptibility testing remains challenging. To test whether whole-genome sequencing (WGS) could provide a more reliable assessment of susceptibility than traditional methods, we predicted resistance from WGS for 976 Escherichia coli bloodstream infection isolates from Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, comparing against phenotypes from the BD Phoenix (calibrated against EUCAST guidelines). A total of 339/976 (35%) isolates were amoxicillin-clavulanate resistant. Predictions based solely on beta-lactamase presence/absence performed poorly (sensitivity, 23% [78/339]) but improved when genetic features associated with penicillinase hyperproduction (e.g., promoter mutations and copy number estimates) were considered (sensitivity, 82% [277/339]; P < 0.0001). Most discrepancies occurred in isolates with MICs within ±1 doubling dilution of the breakpoint. We investigated two potential causes: the phenotypic reference and the binary resistant/susceptible classification. We performed reference standard, replicated phenotyping in a random stratified subsample of 261/976 (27%) isolates using agar dilution, following both EUCAST and CLSI guidelines, which use different clavulanate concentrations. As well as disagreeing with each other, neither agar dilution phenotype aligned perfectly with genetic features. A random-effects model investigating associations between genetic features and MICs showed that some genetic features had small, variable and additive effects, resulting in variable resistance classification. Using model fixed-effects to predict MICs for the non-agar dilution isolates, predicted MICs were in essential agreement (±1 doubling dilution) with observed (BD Phoenix) MICs for 691/715 (97%) isolates. This suggests amoxicillin-clavulanate resistance in E. coli is quantitative, rather than qualitative, explaining the poorly reproducible binary (resistant/susceptible) phenotypes and suboptimal concordance between different phenotypic methods and with WGS-based predictions.

Original publication




Journal article


Antimicrob Agents Chemother

Publication Date





antibiotic resistance, antimicrobial combinations, beta-lactamase inhibitor, microbial genomics, susceptibility testing, Amoxicillin-Potassium Clavulanate Combination, Anti-Bacterial Agents, Clavulanic Acid, Escherichia coli, Microbial Sensitivity Tests, Phenotype, United Kingdom, beta-Lactamases