Background: Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are ubiquitous in the environment and an increasingly frequent cause of opportunistic infections. Mycobacterium abscessus complex (MABC) is one of the major NTM lung pathogens that disproportionately colonize and infect the lungs of individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF). MABC infection can persist for years, and antimicrobial treatment is frequently ineffective. Methods: We sequenced the genomes of 175 isolates longitudinally collected from 30 patients with MABC lung infection. We contextualized our cohort amidst the broader MABC phylogeny and investigated genes undergoing parallel adaptation across patients. Finally, we tested the phenotypic consequences of parallel mutations by conducting antimicrobial resistance and mercury-resistance assays. Results: We identified highly related isolate pairs across hospital centers with low likelihood of transmission. We further annotated nonrandom parallel mutations in 22 genes and demonstrated altered macrolide susceptibility co-occurring with a nonsynonymous whiB1 mutation. Finally, we highlighted a 23-kb mercury-resistance plasmid whose loss during chronic infection conferred phenotypic susceptibility to organic and nonorganic mercury compounds. Conclusions: We characterized parallel genomic processes through which MABC is adapting to promote survival within the host. The within-lineage polymorphisms we observed have phenotypic effects, potentially benefiting fitness in the host at the putative detriment of environmental survival.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-331
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Infectious Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023


  • Mycobacterium abscessus complex
  • comparative genomics
  • in-host adaptation
  • nontuberculous mycobacteria


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