Authors:Trudy Wassenaar, David Ussery, Lene Nielsen, and Hanne Ingmer
The qac genes of Staphylococcus species encode multidrug efflux pumps: membrane proteins that export toxic molecules and thus increase tolerance to a variety of compounds such as disinfecting agents, including quaternary ammonium compounds (for which they are named), intercalating dyes and some antibiotics. In Stapylococcus species, six different plasmid-encoded Qac efflux pumps have been described, and they belong to two major protein families. QacA and QacB are members of the Major Facilitator Superfamily, while QacC, QacG, QacH, and QacJ all belong to the Small Multidrug Resistance (SMR) family. Not all SMR proteins are called Qac and the reverse is also true, which has caused confusion in the literature and in gene annotations. The discovery of qac genes and their presence in various staphylococcal populations is briefly reviewed. A sequence comparison revealed that some of the PCR primers described in the literature for qac detection may miss particular qac genes due to lack of DNA conservation. Despite their resemblance in substrate specificity, the Qac proteins belonging to the two protein families have little in common. QacA and QacB are highly conserved in Staphylococcus species, while qacA was also detected in Enterococcus faecalis, suggesting that these plasmid-born genes have spread across bacterial genera. Nevertheless, these qacA and qacB genes are quite dissimilar to their closest homologues in other organisms. In contrast, SMR-type Qac proteins display considerable sequence variation, despite their short length, even within the Staphylococcus genus. Phylogenetic analysis of these genes identified similarity to a large number of other SMR members, found in staphylococci as well as in other genera. A number of phylogenetic trees of SMR Qac proteins are presented here, starting with genes present in S. aureus and S. epidermidis, and extending this to related genes found in other species of this genus, and finally to genes found in other genera.