Hidden suppressive interactions are common in higher-order drug combinations

Published: 18 March 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/ts2hnd72yf.1
, Elif Tekin,
, Bjørn Østman,


The rapid increase of multi-drug resistant bacteria has led to a greater emphasis on multi-drug combination treatments. However, some combinations can be suppressive—that is, bacteria grow faster in some drug combinations than when treated with a single drug. Typically, when studying interactions, the overall effect of the combination is only compared to the single drug effects. However, doing so could miss “hidden” cases of suppression, which occur when the highest-order is suppressive compared to a lower-order combination but not to a single drug. We examined an extensive dataset of 5-drug combinations and all lower-order—single, 2-, 3-, and 4-drug—combinations. We found that a majority of all combinations—54%—contain hidden suppression. Examining hidden interactions is critical to understanding the architecture of higher-order interactions and can substantially affect our understanding and predictions of the evolution of antibiotic resistance under multi-drug treatments.



University of California Los Angeles


Evolutionary Biology, Antibiotics, Antibiotic Resistance