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1.  Drosophila melanogaster as an Animal Model for the Study of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilm Infections In Vivo 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002299.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen capable of causing both acute and chronic infections in susceptible hosts. Chronic P. aeruginosa infections are thought to be caused by bacterial biofilms. Biofilms are highly structured, multicellular, microbial communities encased in an extracellular matrix that enable long-term survival in the host. The aim of this research was to develop an animal model that would allow an in vivo study of P. aeruginosa biofilm infections in a Drosophila melanogaster host. At 24 h post oral infection of Drosophila, P. aeruginosa biofilms localized to and were visualized in dissected Drosophila crops. These biofilms had a characteristic aggregate structure and an extracellular matrix composed of DNA and exopolysaccharide. P. aeruginosa cells recovered from in vivo grown biofilms had increased antibiotic resistance relative to planktonically grown cells. In vivo, biofilm formation was dependent on expression of the pel exopolysaccharide genes, as a pelB::lux mutant failed to form biofilms. The pelB::lux mutant was significantly more virulent than PAO1, while a hyperbiofilm strain (PAZHI3) demonstrated significantly less virulence than PAO1, as indicated by survival of infected flies at day 14 postinfection. Biofilm formation, by strains PAO1 and PAZHI3, in the crop was associated with induction of diptericin, cecropin A1 and drosomycin antimicrobial peptide gene expression 24 h postinfection. In contrast, infection with the non-biofilm forming strain pelB::lux resulted in decreased AMP gene expression in the fly. In summary, these results provide novel insights into host-pathogen interactions during P. aeruginosa oral infection of Drosophila and highlight the use of Drosophila as an infection model that permits the study of P. aeruginosa biofilms in vivo.
Author Summary
Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes serious infections in people with compromised immune systems. Individuals with Cystic Fibrosis and hospital patients are particularly vulnerable to P. aeruginosa infections. This bacterium does not respond to many antibiotics, making these infections difficult to treat. P. aeruginosa can grow as free-floating planktonic cells or as microcolonies known as biofilms. The ability of P. aeruginosa to form biofilms is thought to contribute to their ability to cause chronic infections. The aim of this research was to develop a simple biofilm model of infection using the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). The immune system of the fruit fly has similarities with the vertebrate innate immune system. Understanding how P. aeruginosa causes infections in Drosophila will aid in understanding virulence mechanisms in mammals. In this study we show that feeding P. aeruginosa to Drosophila results in a biofilm infection and biofilm infections induced expression of antimicrobial peptide immune response genes in the fly. Using fly survival as a measure of virulence we showed that biofilm infections were less virulent than non-biofilm infections. These results provide novel insight into host-pathogens interactions during P. aeruginosa infection.
PMCID: PMC3188550  PMID: 21998591
2.  Extracellular DNA Chelates Cations and Induces Antibiotic Resistance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilms 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(11):e1000213.
Biofilms are surface-adhered bacterial communities encased in an extracellular matrix composed of DNA, bacterial polysaccharides and proteins, which are up to 1000-fold more antibiotic resistant than planktonic cultures. To date, extracellular DNA has been shown to function as a structural support to maintain Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm architecture. Here we show that DNA is a multifaceted component of P. aeruginosa biofilms. At physiologically relevant concentrations, extracellular DNA has antimicrobial activity, causing cell lysis by chelating cations that stabilize lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and the outer membrane (OM). DNA-mediated killing occurred within minutes, as a result of perturbation of both the outer and inner membrane (IM) and the release of cytoplasmic contents, including genomic DNA. Sub-inhibitory concentrations of DNA created a cation-limited environment that resulted in induction of the PhoPQ- and PmrAB-regulated cationic antimicrobial peptide resistance operon PA3552–PA3559 in P. aeruginosa. Furthermore, DNA-induced expression of this operon resulted in up to 2560-fold increased resistance to cationic antimicrobial peptides and 640-fold increased resistance to aminoglycosides, but had no effect on β-lactam and fluoroquinolone resistance. Thus, the presence of extracellular DNA in the biofilm matrix contributes to cation gradients, genomic DNA release and inducible antibiotic resistance. DNA-rich environments, including biofilms and other infection sites like the CF lung, are likely the in vivo environments where extracellular pathogens such as P. aeruginosa encounter cation limitation.
Author Summary
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen, which causes a variety of serious infections in immunocompromised patients and cystic fibrosis (CF) sufferers. The biofilm-forming ability of P. aeruginosa is thought to contribute to chronic P. aeruginosa infection of the CF lung. Biofilms are dense communities of bacteria, encased in an extracellular matrix, that are practically impossible to eradicate using available antimicrobial therapies. Understanding the mechanisms by which biofilm bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics is paramount to expanding the treatment options available to patients with chronic biofilm infections. In this study we have identified a novel mechanism of biofilm-specific antibiotic resistance. Extracellular DNA, a known component of biofilms, was found to induce antibiotic resistance. This previously unidentified function of DNA was due to its ability to bind and sequester cations, including magnesium, from the surrounding environment. This environmental cue was then detected by P. aeruginosa leading to induction of genes involved in modification of the cell surface component, lipopolysaccharide (LPS), resulting in physical alterations in the bacterial outer membrane (OM). These results demonstrate a novel function for DNA in biofilms and identify cation chelation by DNA as a previously unrecognized mechanism, which can explain the increased resistance of biofilms to antimicrobial agents.
PMCID: PMC2581603  PMID: 19023416
3.  Use of Artificial Sputum Medium to Test Antibiotic Efficacy Against Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Conditions More Relevant to the Cystic Fibrosis Lung 
There is growing concern about the relevance of in vitro antimicrobial susceptibility tests when applied to isolates of P. aeruginosa from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Existing methods rely on single or a few isolates grown aerobically and planktonically. Predetermined cut-offs are used to define whether the bacteria are sensitive or resistant to any given antibiotic1. However, during chronic lung infections in CF, P. aeruginosa populations exist in biofilms and there is evidence that the environment is largely microaerophilic2. The stark difference in conditions between bacteria in the lung and those during diagnostic testing has called into question the reliability and even relevance of these tests3.
Artificial sputum medium (ASM) is a culture medium containing the components of CF patient sputum, including amino acids, mucin and free DNA. P. aeruginosa growth in ASM mimics growth during CF infections, with the formation of self-aggregating biofilm structures and population divergence4,5,6. The aim of this study was to develop a microtitre-plate assay to study antimicrobial susceptibility of P. aeruginosa based on growth in ASM, which is applicable to both microaerophilic and aerobic conditions.
An ASM assay was developed in a microtitre plate format. P. aeruginosa biofilms were allowed to develop for 3 days prior to incubation with antimicrobial agents at different concentrations for 24 hours. After biofilm disruption, cell viability was measured by staining with resazurin. This assay was used to ascertain the sessile cell minimum inhibitory concentration (SMIC) of tobramycin for 15 different P. aeruginosa isolates under aerobic and microaerophilic conditions and SMIC values were compared to those obtained with standard broth growth. Whilst there was some evidence for increased MIC values for isolates grown in ASM when compared to their planktonic counterparts, the biggest differences were found with bacteria tested in microaerophilic conditions, which showed a much increased resistance up to a >128 fold, towards tobramycin in the ASM system when compared to assays carried out in aerobic conditions.
The lack of association between current susceptibility testing methods and clinical outcome has questioned the validity of current methods3. Several in vitro models have been used previously to study P. aeruginosa biofilms7, 8. However, these methods rely on surface attached biofilms, whereas the ASM biofilms resemble those observed in the CF lung9 . In addition, reduced oxygen concentration in the mucus has been shown to alter the behavior of P. aeruginosa2 and affect antibiotic susceptibility10. Therefore using ASM under microaerophilic conditions may provide a more realistic environment in which to study antimicrobial susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3471314  PMID: 22711026
Immunology;  Issue 64;  Microbiology;  Pseudomonas aeruginosa;  antimicrobial susceptibility;  artificial sputum media;  lung infection;  cystic fibrosis;  diagnostics;  plankton
4.  The MerR-Like Transcriptional Regulator BrlR Contributes to Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilm Tolerance 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(18):4823-4836.
Biofilms are composed of surface-attached microbial communities. A hallmark of biofilms is their profound tolerance of antimicrobial agents. While biofilm drug tolerance has been considered to be multifactorial, our findings indicate, instead, that bacteria within biofilms employ a classical regulatory mechanism to resist the action of antimicrobial agents. Here we report that the transcriptional regulator BrlR, a member of the MerR family of multidrug transport activators, plays a role in the high-level drug tolerance of biofilms formed by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Expression of brlR was found to be biofilm specific, with brlR inactivation not affecting biofilm formation, motility, or pslA expression but increasing ndvB expression. Inactivation of brlR rendered biofilms but not planktonic cells grown to exponential or stationary phase significantly more susceptible to hydrogen peroxide and five different classes of antibiotics by affecting the MICs and the recalcitrance of biofilms to killing by microbicidal antimicrobial agents. In contrast, overexpression of brlR rendered both biofilms and planktonic cells more tolerant to the same compounds. brlR expression in three cystic fibrosis (CF) isolates was elevated regardless of the mode of growth, suggesting a selection for constitutive brlR expression upon in vivo biofilm formation associated with chronic infections. Despite increased brlR expression, however, isolate CF1-8 was as susceptible to tobramycin as was a ΔbrlR mutant because of a nonsense mutation in brlR. Our results indicate for the first time that biofilms employ a specific regulatory mechanism to resist the action of antimicrobial agents in a BrlR-dependent manner which affects MIC and recalcitrance to killing by microbicidal antimicrobial agents.
PMCID: PMC3430307  PMID: 22730129
5.  Biofilm formation by clinical isolates and the implications in chronic infections 
Biofilm formation is a major virulence factor contributing to the chronicity of infections. To date few studies have evaluated biofilm formation in infecting isolates of patients including both Gram-positive and Gram-negative multidrug-resistant (MDR) species in the context of numerous types of infectious syndromes. Herein, we investigated the biofilm forming capacity in a large collection of single patient infecting isolates and compared the relationship between biofilm formation to various strain characteristics.
The biofilm-forming capacity of 205 randomly sampled clinical isolates from patients, collected from various anatomical sites, admitted for treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) from 2004–2011, including methicillin-resistant/methicillin susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA/MSSA) (n=23), Acinetobacter baumannii (n=53), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (n=36), Klebsiella pneumoniae (n=54), and Escherichia coli (n=39), were evaluated for biofilm formation using the high-throughput microtiter plate assay and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Relationships between biofilm formation to clonal type, site of isolate collection, and MDR phenotype were evaluated. Furthermore, in patients with relapsing infections, serial strains were assessed for their ability to form biofilms in vitro.
Of the 205 clinical isolates tested, 126 strains (61.4%) were observed to form biofilms in vitro at levels greater than or equal to the Staphylococcus epidermidis, positive biofilm producing strain, with P. aeruginosa and S. aureus having the greatest number of biofilm producing strains. Biofilm formation was significantly associated with specific clonal types, the site of isolate collection, and strains positive for biofilm formation were more frequently observed to be MDR. In patients with relapsing infections, the majority of serial isolates recovered from these individuals were observed to be strong biofilm producers in vitro.
This study is the first to evaluate biofilm formation in a large collection of infecting clinical isolates representing diverse types of infections. Our results demonstrate: (1) biofilm formation is a heterogeneous property amongst clinical strains which is associated with certain clonal types, (2) biofilm forming strains are more frequently isolated from non-fluid tissues, in particular bone and soft tissues, (3) MDR pathogens are more often biofilm formers, and (4) strains from patients with persistent infections are positive for biofilm formation.
PMCID: PMC3568419  PMID: 23356488
Biofilm formation; Clinical isolates; Chronic infection; Multidrug-resistant; MRSA
6.  Fitness Landscape of Antibiotic Tolerance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilms 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002298.
Bacteria in biofilms have higher antibiotic tolerance than their planktonic counterparts. A major outstanding question is the degree to which the biofilm-specific cellular state and its constituent genetic determinants contribute to this hyper-tolerant phenotype. Here, we used genome-wide functional profiling of a complex, heterogeneous mutant population of Pseudomonas aeruginosa MPAO1 in biofilm and planktonic growth conditions with and without tobramycin to systematically quantify the contribution of each locus to antibiotic tolerance under these two states. We identified large sets of mutations that contribute to antibiotic tolerance predominantly in the biofilm or planktonic setting only, offering global insights into the differences and similarities between biofilm and planktonic antibiotic tolerance. Our mixed population-based experimental design recapitulated the complexity of natural biofilms and, unlike previous studies, revealed clinically observed behaviors including the emergence of quorum sensing-deficient mutants. Our study revealed a substantial contribution of the cellular state to the antibiotic tolerance of biofilms, providing a rational foundation for the development of novel therapeutics against P. aeruginosa biofilm-associated infections.
Author Summary
Biofilms, matrix-enclosed surface-colonized communities of bacteria, are extremely resistant to antimicrobial agents, withstanding concentrations of antibiotics orders of magnitude higher compared to free-swimming planktonic cells. This is a well-established characteristic of infections caused by the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the major cause of morbidity in cystic fibrosis patients and a frequent cause of nosocomial infections, and Pseudomonas infections generally persist despite the use of long-term antibiotic therapy. Nonetheless, the genetic basis of the hyper-tolerance of biofilms to antimicrobial agents is poorly understood. In this study, we use a genome-wide genetic footprinting technology to systematically quantify the contribution of each locus in P. aeruginosa to antibiotic tolerance in both biofilm and planktonic states. Comparing and contrasting the genome-wide genetic profile of these two physiological states revealed that large sets of genes modulate antibiotic tolerance as a function of the cellular state.
PMCID: PMC3197603  PMID: 22028649
7.  In Vivo Pharmacokinetics/Pharmacodynamics of Colistin and Imipenem in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilm Infection 
Many Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates from the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) are sensitive to antibiotics in susceptibility testing, but eradication of the infection is difficult. The main reason is the biofilm formation in the airways of patients with CF. The pharmacokinetics (PKs) and pharmacodynamics (PDs) of antimicrobials can reliably be used to predict whether antimicrobial regimens will achieve the maximum bactericidal effect against infections. Unfortunately, however, most PK/PD studies of antimicrobials have been done on planktonic cells and very few PK/PD studies have been done on biofilms, partly due to the lack of suitable models in vivo. In the present study, a biofilm lung infection model was developed to provide an objective and quantitative evaluation of the PK/PD profile of antimicrobials. Killing curves were set up to detect the antimicrobial kinetics on planktonic and biofilm P. aeruginosa cells in vivo. Colistin showed concentration-dependent killing, while imipenem showed time-dependent killing on both planktonic and biofilm P. aeruginosa cells in vivo. The parameter best correlated to the elimination of bacteria in lung by colistin was the area under the curve (AUC) versus MIC (AUC/MIC) for planktonic cells or the AUC versus minimal biofilm inhibitory concentration (MBIC; AUC/MBIC) for biofilm cells. The best-correlated parameter for imipenem was the time that the drug concentration was above the MIC for planktonic cells (TMIC) or time that the drug concentration was above the MBIC (TMBIC) for biofilm cells. However, the AUC/MIC of imipenem showed a better correlation with the efficacy of imipenem for biofilm infections (R2 = 0.89) than planktonic cell infections (R2 = 0.38). The postantibiotic effect (PAE) of colistin and imipenem was shorter in biofilm infections than planktonic cell infections in this model.
PMCID: PMC3346607  PMID: 22354300
8.  Antibiotic Susceptibilities of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Isolates Derived from Patients with Cystic Fibrosis under Aerobic, Anaerobic, and Biofilm Conditions 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2005;43(10):5085-5090.
Recent studies have determined that Pseudomonas aeruginosa can live in a biofilm mode within hypoxic mucus in the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). P. aeruginosa grown under anaerobic and biofilm conditions may better approximate in vivo growth conditions in the CF airways, and combination antibiotic susceptibility testing of anaerobically and biofilm-grown isolates may be more relevant than traditional susceptibility testing under planktonic aerobic conditions. We tested 16 multidrug-resistant isolates of P. aeruginosa derived from CF patients using multiple combination bactericidal testing to compare the efficacies of double and triple antibiotic combinations against the isolates grown under traditional aerobic planktonic conditions, in planktonic anaerobic conditions, and in biofilm mode. Both anaerobically grown and biofilm-grown bacteria were significantly less susceptible (P < 0.01) to single and combination antibiotics than corresponding aerobic planktonically grown isolates. Furthermore, the antibiotic combinations that were bactericidal under anaerobic conditions were often different from those that were bactericidal against the same organisms grown as biofilms. The most effective combinations under all conditions were colistin (tested at concentrations suitable for nebulization) either alone or in combination with tobramycin (10 μg ml−1), followed by meropenem combined with tobramycin or ciprofloxacin. The findings of this study illustrate that antibiotic sensitivities are dependent on culture conditions and highlight the complexities of choosing appropriate combination therapy for multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa in the CF lung.
PMCID: PMC1248524  PMID: 16207967
9.  Single and Combination Antibiotic Susceptibilities of Planktonic, Adherent, and Biofilm-Grown Pseudomonas aeruginosa Isolates Cultured from Sputa of Adults with Cystic Fibrosis 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2002;40(11):4172-4179.
Evidence suggests that Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria form biofilms within the airways of adults with cystic fibrosis (CF). The objective of this study was to determine whether clinical isolates of P. aeruginosa recovered from adults with CF have similar susceptibilities to individual antibiotics and to antibiotic combinations when grown as adherent monolayers or as biofilms compared to when they are grown using planktonic methods. Twelve multiresistant P. aeruginosa isolates, one mucoid and one nonmucoid from each of six CF patients, were grown conventionally under planktonic conditions, as adherent bacterial monolayers, and as biofilms. Each bacterial isolate remained genotypically identical despite being cultured under planktonic, adherent, or biofilm growth conditions. Isolates grown as adherent monolayers and as biofilms were less susceptible to bactericidal killing by individual antibiotics compared to those grown planktonically. More importantly, biofilm-grown bacteria, but not adherent monolayer-grown bacteria, were significantly less susceptible to two- and three-drug combinations of antibiotics than were planktonically grown bacteria (P = 0.005). We conclude that biofilm-grown bacteria derived from patients with CF show decreased susceptibility to the bactericidal effects of antibiotic combinations than do adherent and planktonically grown bacteria.
PMCID: PMC139693  PMID: 12409393
10.  Pseudomonas aeruginosa Cystic Fibrosis isolates of similar RAPD genotype exhibit diversity in biofilm forming ability in vitro 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:38.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is considered to grow in a biofilm in cystic fibrosis (CF) chronic lung infections. Bacterial cell motility is one of the main factors that have been connected with P. aeruginosa adherence to both biotic and abiotic surfaces. In this investigation, we employed molecular and microscopic methods to determine the presence or absence of motility in P. aeruginosa CF isolates, and statistically correlated this with their biofilm forming ability in vitro.
Our investigations revealed a wide diversity in the production, architecture and control of biofilm formation. Of 96 isolates, 49% possessed swimming motility, 27% twitching and 52% swarming motility, while 47% were non-motile. Microtitre plate assays for biofilm formation showed a range of biofilm formation ability from biofilm deficient phenotypes to those that formed very thick biofilms. A comparison of the motility and adherence properties of individual strains demonstrated that the presence of swimming and twitching motility positively affected biofilm biomass. Crucially, however, motility was not an absolute requirement for biofilm formation, as 30 non-motile isolates actually formed thick biofilms, and three motile isolates that had both flagella and type IV pili attached only weakly. In addition, CLSM analysis showed that biofilm-forming strains of P. aeruginosa were in fact capable of entrapping non-biofilm forming strains, such that these 'non-biofilm forming' cells could be observed as part of the mature biofilm architecture.
Clinical isolates that do not produce biofilms in the laboratory must have the ability to survive in the patient lung. We propose that a synergy exists between isolates in vivo, which allows "non biofilm-forming" isolates to be incorporated into the biofilm. Therefore, there is the potential for strains that are apparently non-biofilm forming in vitro to participate in biofilm-mediated pathogenesis in the CF lung.
PMCID: PMC2841157  PMID: 20141637
11.  Broad-Spectrum Anti-biofilm Peptide That Targets a Cellular Stress Response 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(5):e1004152.
Bacteria form multicellular communities known as biofilms that cause two thirds of all infections and demonstrate a 10 to 1000 fold increase in adaptive resistance to conventional antibiotics. Currently, there are no approved drugs that specifically target bacterial biofilms. Here we identified a potent anti-biofilm peptide 1018 that worked by blocking (p)ppGpp, an important signal in biofilm development. At concentrations that did not affect planktonic growth, peptide treatment completely prevented biofilm formation and led to the eradication of mature biofilms in representative strains of both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial pathogens including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Typhimurium and Burkholderia cenocepacia. Low levels of the peptide led to biofilm dispersal, while higher doses triggered biofilm cell death. We hypothesized that the peptide acted to inhibit a common stress response in target species, and that the stringent response, mediating (p)ppGpp synthesis through the enzymes RelA and SpoT, was targeted. Consistent with this, increasing (p)ppGpp synthesis by addition of serine hydroxamate or over-expression of relA led to reduced susceptibility to the peptide. Furthermore, relA and spoT mutations blocking production of (p)ppGpp replicated the effects of the peptide, leading to a reduction of biofilm formation in the four tested target species. Also, eliminating (p)ppGpp expression after two days of biofilm growth by removal of arabinose from a strain expressing relA behind an arabinose-inducible promoter, reciprocated the effect of peptide added at the same time, leading to loss of biofilm. NMR and chromatography studies showed that the peptide acted on cells to cause degradation of (p)ppGpp within 30 minutes, and in vitro directly interacted with ppGpp. We thus propose that 1018 targets (p)ppGpp and marks it for degradation in cells. Targeting (p)ppGpp represents a new approach against biofilm-related drug resistance.
Author Summary
Bacteria colonize most environments, including the host by forming biofilms, which are extremely (adaptively) resistant to conventional antibiotics. Biofilms cause at least 65% of all human infections, being particularly prevalent in device-related infections, infections on body surfaces and in chronic infections. Currently there is a severe problem with antibiotic-resistant organisms, given the explosion of antibiotic resistance whereby our entire arsenal of antibiotics is gradually losing effectiveness, combined with the paucity of truly novel compounds under development or entering the clinic. Thus the even greater resistance of biofilms adds to the major concerns being expressed by physicians and medical authorities. Consequently, there is an urgent need for new strategies to treat biofilm infections and we demonstrate in the present study an approach, based on the inhibition of (p)ppGpp by a small peptide, that eradicates biofilms formed by four of the so-called ESKAPE pathogens, identified by the Infectious Diseases Society of America as the most recalcitrant and resistant organisms in our society. The strategy presented here represents a significant advance in the search for new agents that specifically target bacterial biofilms.
PMCID: PMC4031209  PMID: 24852171
12.  The clinical impact of bacterial biofilms 
Bacteria survive in nature by forming biofilms on surfaces and probably most, if not all, bacteria (and fungi) are capable of forming biofilms. A biofilm is a structured consortium of bacteria embedded in a self-produced polymer matrix consisting of polysaccharide, protein and extracellular DNA. Bacterial biofilms are resistant to antibiotics, disinfectant chemicals and to phagocytosis and other components of the innate and adaptive inflammatory defense system of the body. It is known, for example, that persistence of staphylococcal infections related to foreign bodies is due to biofilm formation. Likewise, chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients are caused by biofilm growing mucoid strains. Gradients of nutrients and oxygen exist from the top to the bottom of biofilms and the bacterial cells located in nutrient poor areas have decreased metabolic activity and increased doubling times. These more or less dormant cells are therefore responsible for some of the tolerance to antibiotics. Biofilm growth is associated with an increased level of mutations. Bacteria in biofilms communicate by means of molecules, which activates certain genes responsible for production of virulence factors and, to some extent, biofilm structure. This phenomenon is called quorum sensing and depends upon the concentration of the quorum sensing molecules in a certain niche, which depends on the number of the bacteria. Biofilms can be prevented by antibiotic prophylaxis or early aggressive antibiotic therapy and they can be treated by chronic suppressive antibiotic therapy. Promising strategies may include the use of compounds which can dissolve the biofilm matrix and quorum sensing inhibitors, which increases biofilm susceptibility to antibiotics and phagocytosis.
PMCID: PMC3469878  PMID: 21485309
bacterial biofilm; biofilm infection; antibiotic resistance; quorum sensing
13.  High β-Lactamase Levels Change the Pharmacodynamics of β-Lactam Antibiotics in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilms 
Resistance to β-lactam antibiotics is a frequent problem in Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infection of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. This resistance is mainly due to the hyperproduction of chromosomally encoded β-lactamase and biofilm formation. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of β-lactamase in the pharmacokinetics (PK) and pharmacodynamics (PD) of ceftazidime and imipenem on P. aeruginosa biofilms. P. aeruginosa PAO1 and its corresponding β-lactamase-overproducing mutant, PAΔDDh2Dh3, were used in this study. Biofilms of these two strains in flow chambers, microtiter plates, and on alginate beads were treated with different concentrations of ceftazidime and imipenem. The kinetics of antibiotics on the biofilms was investigated in vitro by time-kill methods. Time-dependent killing of ceftazidime was observed in PAO1 biofilms, but concentration-dependent killing activity of ceftazidime was observed for β-lactamase-overproducing biofilms of P. aeruginosa in all three models. Ceftazidime showed time-dependent killing on planktonic PAO1 and PAΔDDh2Dh3. This difference is probably due to the special distribution and accumulation in the biofilm matrix of β-lactamase, which can hydrolyze the β-lactam antibiotics. The PK/PD indices of the AUC/MBIC and Cmax/MBIC (AUC is the area under concentration-time curve, MBIC is the minimal biofilm-inhibitory concentration, and Cmax is the maximum concentration of drug in serum) are probably the best parameters to describe the effect of ceftazidime in β-lactamase-overproducing P. aeruginosa biofilms. Meanwhile, imipenem showed time-dependent killing on both PAO1 and PAΔDDh2Dh3 biofilms. An inoculum effect of β-lactams was found for both planktonic and biofilm P. aeruginosa cells. The inoculum effect of ceftazidime for the β-lactamase-overproducing mutant PAΔDDh2Dh3 biofilms was more obvious than for PAO1 biofilms, with a requirement of higher antibiotic concentration and a longer period of treatment.
PMCID: PMC3535908  PMID: 23089750
14.  The Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type III Translocon Is Required for Biofilm Formation at the Epithelial Barrier 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(11):e1004479.
Clinical infections by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a deadly Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen of immunocompromised hosts, often involve the formation of antibiotic-resistant biofilms. Although biofilm formation has been extensively studied in vitro on glass or plastic surfaces, much less is known about biofilm formation at the epithelial barrier. We have previously shown that when added to the apical surface of polarized epithelial cells, P. aeruginosa rapidly forms cell-associated aggregates within 60 minutes of infection. By confocal microscopy we now show that cell-associated aggregates exhibit key characteristics of biofilms, including the presence of extracellular matrix and increased resistance to antibiotics compared to planktonic bacteria. Using isogenic mutants in the type III secretion system, we found that the translocon, but not the effectors themselves, were required for cell-associated aggregation on the surface of polarized epithelial cells and at early time points in a murine model of acute pneumonia. In contrast, the translocon was not required for aggregation on abiotic surfaces, suggesting a novel function for the type III secretion system during cell-associated aggregation. Supernatants from epithelial cells infected with wild-type bacteria or from cells treated with the pore-forming toxin streptolysin O could rescue aggregate formation in a type III secretion mutant, indicating that cell-associated aggregation requires one or more host cell factors. Our results suggest a previously unappreciated function for the type III translocon in the formation of P. aeruginosa biofilms at the epithelial barrier and demonstrate that biofilms may form at early time points of infection.
Author Summary
Clinical infections by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a deadly Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen of immunocompromised patients, involve the formation of antibiotic-resistant biofilms. Although P. aeruginosa biofilm formation has been extensively studied on glass or plastic surfaces, less is known about biofilm formation at the epithelial barrier. This study shows that, on epithelial cells, P. aeruginosa forms aggregates that exhibit key characteristics of biofilms. Furthermore, we demonstrate that aggregation on epithelial cells and at early time points in mouse pneumonia requires pore formation mediated by the type III secretion system. Our results indicate that biofilm-like aggregation is induced by a host cell factor that is released after pore formation, suggesting an unexpected role for an acute virulence factor in biofilm formation.
PMCID: PMC4223071  PMID: 25375398
15.  Engineering microbes to sense and eradicate Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a human pathogen 
A synthetic genetic system is designed and characterized that allows Escherichia coli to sense and eradicate Pseudomonas aeruginosa, providing a novel antimicrobial strategy that could potentially be applied to fighting infectious pathogens.
We have engineered and demonstrated a novel genetic circuit that enables Escherichia coli to produce and release pyocin upon quorum sensing detection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which in turn kills P. aeruginosa.The quorum sensing device, which comprises an LasR transcription factor constitutively expressed by a pTetR promoter and a downstream pLuxR inducible promoter, has a switch point of 1.2 × 10E-7 M 3OC12HSL and is able to sense 3OC12HSL natively produced by P. aeruginosa.The E7 lysis device when coupled downstream of the quorum sensing device enhances pyocin release eight-fold.The engineered E. coli, which carries the sensing, lysing, and killing devices, effectively inhibits the growth of planktonic and biofilm P. aeruginosa by 99 and 90%, respectively.
In this study, we have made progress toward developing a novel antimicrobial strategy, based on an engineered microbial system, using the synthetic biology framework. Our final system was designed to (i) detect AHLs produced by P. aeruginosa; (ii) produce pyocin S5 upon the detection; and (iii) lyse the E. coli cells by E7 lysis protein so that the produced pyocin S5 is released from the cells, leading to the killing of P. aeruginosa.
Figure 1 shows a schematic of our sensing and killing genetic system. The sensing device was designed based on the Type I quorum sensing mechanism of P. aeruginosa. The tetR promoter, which is constitutively on, produces a transcriptional factor, LasR, that binds to AHL 3OC12HSL. The luxR promoter, to which LasR-3OC12HSL activator complex reportedly binds, was adopted as the inducible promoter in our sensing device (Gray et al, 1994). Next, the formation of the LasR-3OC12HSL complex, which binds to the luxR promoter, activates the killing and lysing devices, leading to the production of pyocin S5 and lysis E7 proteins within the E. coli chassis. Upon reaching a threshold concentration, the lysis E7 protein perforates membrane of the E. coli host and releases the accumulated pyocin S5. Pyocin S5, which is a soluble protein, then diffuses toward the target pathogen and damages its cellular integrity, thereby killing it.
To evaluate and characterize the sensing device, the gene encoding the green fluorescent protein (GFP) was fused to the sensing device and the GFP expression was monitored at a range of concentrations of 3OC12HSL. From the measured GFP synthesis rates, we observed a basal expression level of 0.216 RFU per OD per minute without induction, followed by a sharp increase in GFP production rate as the concentration of 3OC12HSL was increased beyond 1.0E-7 M. A transfer function that describes the static relationship between the input (3OC12HSL) and output (GFP production rate) of the sensing device was determined by fitting an empirical mathematical model (Hill equation) to the experimental data where the input 3OC12HSL concentration is <1.0E-6 M. The resulting best fit model demonstrated that the static performance of the sensing device follows a Hill equation below the input concentration of 1.0E-6 M 3OC12HSL. The model showed that the sensing device saturated at a maximum output of 1.96 RFU per OD per minute at input concentration >3.3E-7 M but <1.0E-6 M 3OC12HSL, and the switch point for the sensing device was 1.2E-7 M 3OC12HSL, the input concentration at which output is at half-maximal. Since this switch point concentration is smaller than the concentration of 3OC12HSL present (1.0E-6 to 1.0E-4 M) within proximity to the site of P. aeruginosa infection as earlier reported in the literature (Pearson et al, 1995; Charlton et al, 2000), the sensing device would be sensitive enough to detect the amount of 3OC12HSL natively produced by P. aeruginosa.
In line with the objective of the E7 lysis device in mediating the export of pyocin, we studied the efficiency of the lysis device in the final system by measuring the amount of the released protein. While distinct bands that corresponded to pyocin S5 were observed on the SDS–PAGE of the final system, no bands were seen in lanes without the lysis device. We further validated the results by estimating the protein concentrations in the supernatant with Bradford assay and showed that the amount of pyocin released by our final system was eight times higher than the system without the lysis device.
To verify that our engineered E. coli can inhibit P. aeruginosa in a mixed culture, we monitored the growth of P. aeruginosa co-cultured with the engineered E. coli in the ratio 1:4 by CFU count. The result shows that our engineered E. coli with the final system effectively inhibited the growth of P. aeruginosa by 99% while continuous growths were apparent in P. aeruginosa co-cultured with incomplete E. coli systems missing either the pyocin S5 or E7 lysis devices.
To examine the potential application of our engineered system against a pseudo disease state of Pseudomonas, a static biofilm inhibition assay was performed. Figure 6A shows that our engineered E. coli inhibited the formation of P. aeruginosa biofilm by close to 90%. This observation is in stark contrast to the pyocin-resistant control strain PAO1 and pyocin-sensitive clinical isolate ln7 subjected to treatment with E. coli having the systems missing either the pyocin S5 or E7 lysis devices. To visualize the extent of biofilm inhibition, biofilm cells with green fluorescence were grown in the presence of engineered E. coli on glass slide substrate and examined with confocal laser scanning microscopy. Figure 6B shows that the morphology of Pseudomonas biofilm treated with the engineered E. coli appeared sparse, while elaborated honey-combed structures were apparent in the control experiments. Collectively, our results suggest that our engineered E. coli carrying the final system, which contains the sensing, killing, and lysing devices, can effectively inhibit the growth of P. aeruginosa in both planktonic and sessile states.
In summary, we engineered a novel biological system, which comprises sensing, killing, and lysing devices, that enables E. coli to sense and eradicate pathogenic P. aeruginosa strains by exploiting the synthetic biology framework. More importantly, our study presents the possibility of engineering potentially beneficial microbiota into therapeutic bioagents to arrest Pseudomonas infection. Given the stalled development of new antibiotics and the increasing emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens, this study provides the foundational basis for a novel synthetic biology-driven antimicrobial strategy that could be extended to include other pathogens such as Vibrio cholera and Helicobacter pylori.
Synthetic biology aims to systematically design and construct novel biological systems that address energy, environment, and health issues. Herein, we describe the development of a synthetic genetic system, which comprises quorum sensing, killing, and lysing devices, that enables Escherichia coli to sense and kill a pathogenic Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain through the production and release of pyocin. The sensing, killing, and lysing devices were characterized to elucidate their detection, antimicrobial and pyocin release functionalities, which subsequently aided in the construction of the final system and the verification of its designed behavior. We demonstrated that our engineered E. coli sensed and killed planktonic P. aeruginosa, evidenced by 99% reduction in the viable cells. Moreover, we showed that our engineered E. coli inhibited the formation of P. aeruginosa biofilm by close to 90%, leading to much sparser and thinner biofilm matrices. These results suggest that E. coli carrying our synthetic genetic system may provide a novel synthetic biology-driven antimicrobial strategy that could potentially be applied to fighting P. aeruginosa and other infectious pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3202794  PMID: 21847113
genetic circuits; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; pyocin; quorum sensing; synthetic biology
16.  In Vitro Analysis of Tobramycin-Treated Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilms on Cystic Fibrosis-Derived Airway Epithelial Cells▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2008;76(4):1423-1433.
P. aeruginosa forms biofilms in the lungs of individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF); however, there have been no effective model systems for studying biofilm formation in the CF lung. We have developed a tissue culture system for growth of P. aeruginosa biofilms on CF-derived human airway cells that promotes the formation of highly antibiotic-resistant microcolonies, which produce an extracellular polysaccharide matrix and require the known abiotic biofilm formation genes flgK and pilB. Treatment of P. aeruginosa biofilms with tobramycin reduced the virulence of the biofilms both by reducing bacterial numbers and by altering virulence gene expression. We performed microarray analysis of these biofilms on epithelial cells after treatment with tobramycin, and we compared these results with gene expression of (i) tobramycin-treated planktonic P. aeruginosa and (ii) tobramycin-treated P. aeruginosa biofilms on an abiotic surface. Despite the conservation in functions required to form a biofilm, our results show that the responses to tobramycin treatment of biofilms grown on biotic versus abiotic surfaces are different, as exemplified by downregulation of genes involved in Pseudomonas quinolone signal biosynthesis specifically in epithelial cell-grown biofilms versus plastic-grown biofilms. We also identified the gene PA0913, which is upregulated by tobramycin specifically in biofilms grown on CF airway cells and codes for a probable magnesium transporter, MgtE. Mutation of the PA0913 gene increased the bacterial virulence of biofilms on the epithelial cells, consistent with a role for the gene in the suppression of bacterial virulence. Taken together, our data show that analysis of biofilms on airway cells provides new insights into the interaction of these microbial communities with the host.
PMCID: PMC2292855  PMID: 18212077
17.  Study of the effect of antimicrobial peptide mimic, CSA-13, on an established biofilm formed by Pseudomonas aeruginosa 
MicrobiologyOpen  2013;2(2):318-325.
The formation of a Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm, a complex structure enclosing bacterial cells in an extracellular polymeric matrix, is responsible for persistent infections in cystic fibrosis patients leading to a high rate of morbidity and mortality. The protective environment created by the tridimensional structure reduces the susceptibility of the bacteria to conventional antibiotherapy. Cationic steroid antibiotics (CSA)-13, a nonpeptide mimic of antimicrobial peptides with antibacterial activity on planktonic cultures, was evaluated for its ability to interact with sessile cells. Using confocal laser scanning microscopy, we demonstrated that the drug damaged bacteria within an established biofilm showing that penetration did not limit the activity of this antimicrobial agent against a biofilm. When biofilms were grown during exposure to shear forces and to a continuous medium flow allowing the development of robust structures with a complex architecture, CSA-13 reached the bacteria entrapped in the biofilm within 30 min. The permeabilizing effect of CSA-13 could be associated with the death of the bacteria. In static conditions, the compound did not perturb the architecture of the biofilm. This study confirms the potential of CSA-13 as a new strategy to combat persistent infections involving biofilms formed by P. aeruginosa.
PMCID: PMC3633355  PMID: 23436807
Biofilms; CDC bioreactor; ceragenins; cystic fibrosis.
18.  Identification of Genes in the σ22 Regulon of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Required for Cell Envelope Homeostasis in Either the Planktonic or the Sessile Mode of Growth 
mBio  2012;3(3):e00094-12.
The Pseudomonas aeruginosa extracytoplasmic functioning (ECF) sigma factor σ22 is encoded by algT/algU and is inhibited by anti-sigma factor MucA. σ22 was originally discovered for its essential role in the expression of the exopolysaccharide alginate by mucoid strains associated with chronic pulmonary infection. However, σ22 is now known to also have a large regulon associated with the response to cell wall stress. Our recent transcriptome analysis identified 293 open reading frames (ORFs) in the σ22 stress stimulon that include genes for outer envelope biogenesis and remodeling, although most of the genes have undefined functions. To better understand the σ22-dependent stress response, mutants affected in 27 genes of the σ22 stimulon were examined and expression was studied with lacZ fusions. Mutants constructed in the 27 genes showed no major change in response to cell wall-acting antibiotics or growth at elevated temperatures nor in alginate production. The mutants were examined for their effects on the expression of the σ22-dependent promoter of the alginate biosynthetic operon (PalgD) as a measure of σ22 derepression from MucA. By testing PalgD expression under both planktonic and sessile growth conditions, 11 genes were found to play a role in the stress response that activates σ22. Some mutations caused an increase or a decrease in the response to cell wall stress. Interestingly, mutations in 7 of the 11 genes caused constitutive PalgD expression under nonstressed conditions and thus showed that these genes are involved in maintaining envelope homeostasis. Mutations in PA0062 and PA1324 showed constitutive PalgD expression during both the planktonic and the sessile modes of growth. However, the PA5178 mutation caused constitutive PalgD expression only during planktonic growth. In contrast, mutations in PA2717, PA0567, PA3040, and PA0920 caused constitutive PalgD expression only in the sessile/biofilm mode of growth. This provides evidence that the σ22 stimulon for cell envelope homeostasis overlaps with biofilm control mechanisms.
During chronic lung infections, such as in cystic fibrosis patients, Pseudomonas aeruginosa produces the exopolysaccharide alginate and forms biofilms that shield the organisms from the immune response and increase resistance to antibiotics. Activation of alginate genes is under the control of an extracytoplasmic stress response system that releases an alternative sigma factor (σ22) in response to cell wall stress and then activates expression of a large regulon. In this study, a mutant analysis of 27 members of the regulon showed that 11 play a role in envelope homeostasis and affect the stress response system itself. Interestingly, some genes demonstrate effects only in either the planktonic (free-swimming) or the sessile (biofilm) mode of growth, which leads to persistence and antibiotic tolerance. The studies presented here provide an important initial step in dissecting the mechanisms that regulate a critical signal transduction pathway that impacts P. aeruginosa pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3372973  PMID: 22589289
19.  Molecular Basis of Azithromycin-Resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilms†  
Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms are extremely recalcitrant to antibiotic treatment. Treatment of cystic fibrosis patients with azithromycin (AZM) has shown promise. We used DNA microarrays to identify differentially expressed transcripts in developing P. aeruginosa biofilms exposed to 2 μg/ml AZM. We report that transcripts for multiple restriction-nodulation-cell division (RND) efflux pumps, known to be involved in planktonic antibiotic resistance, and transcripts involved in type III secretion were upregulated in the resistant biofilms that developed in the presence of AZM. Interestingly, the MexAB-OprM and MexCD-OprJ efflux pumps, but not type III secretion, appear to be integral to biofilm formation in the presence of AZM, as evidenced by the fact that a mutant deleted in both mexAB-oprM and mexCD-oprJ was unable to form a biofilm in the presence of AZM. A mutant deleted in type III secretion was still able to form biofilms in the presence of drug. Furthermore, single mexAB-oprM- and mexCD-oprJ-null mutants were able to form a biofilm in the presence of drug, indicating that either of the pumps can confer resistance to AZM during biofilm development. In contrast to planktonically grown cells, where no mexC expression was detectable regardless of the presence of AZM, biofilms exhibited induction of mexC expression from the outset of their formation, but only in the presence of AZM. mexA, which is constitutively expressed in planktonic cells, was uniformly expressed in biofilms regardless of the presence of AZM. These data indicate that the MexCD-OprJ pump acts as a biofilm-specific mechanism for AZM resistance.
PMCID: PMC1195439  PMID: 16127063
20.  In vitro evaluation of tobramycin and aztreonam versus Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms on cystic fibrosis-derived human airway epithelial cells 
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy  2012;67(11):2673-2681.
Aztreonam for inhalation solution (AZLI) was recently approved by the FDA for treating cystic fibrosis (CF) patients infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Here we investigated the effect of aztreonam alone or in combination with tobramycin on P. aeruginosa biofilms grown on CF airway epithelial cells.
P. aeruginosa biofilms, produced by laboratory strains or clinical isolates, were formed on confluent CF airway cells before treatment overnight with aztreonam or tobramycin alone or in combination. Alternatively, antibiotics were added 1 h after bacterial inoculation to assess their ability to impair biofilm formation at 5 h. Bacterial cfu remaining after treatment were then determined by plate counting.
In the absence of antibiotics, all strains developed biofilms that disrupted CF airway epithelial monolayers overnight. Tobramycin reduced the cfu of all strains grown as biofilms. Aztreonam reduced the cfu of some strains by ∼1 log unit without preserving the integrity of cystic fibrosis airway cell monolayers, while decreasing the biofilms of other clinical isolates by ∼4 log units and protecting the monolayers from being compromised. The combination of aztreonam and tobramycin reduced the cfu of two strains by an additional 0.5 and 2 log units, respectively. Of all the mechanisms explored, Psl exopolysaccharide production might explain the variations in biofilm tolerance to aztreonam in some of the strains.
Effects of aztreonam on P. aeruginosa biofilms in the in vitro co-culture model are strain-dependent. The simultaneous application of aztreonam and tobramycin may be beneficial for a subset of CF patients by eliminating susceptible P. aeruginosa strains.
PMCID: PMC3468082  PMID: 22843834
tolerance; AZLI; co-culture; monotherapy
21.  Randomized Trial of Biofilm Testing to Select Antibiotics for Cystic Fibrosis Airway Infection* 
Pediatric pulmonology  2010;46(2):184-192.
In cystic fibrosis (CF), conventional antibiotic susceptibility results correlate poorly with clinical outcomes. We hypothesized that biofilm testing would more accurately reflect the susceptibilities of bacteria infecting CF airways.
A multi-center randomized pilot trial was conducted to assess the efficacy and safety of using biofilm susceptibility testing of Pseudomonas aeruginosa sputum isolates to guide antibiotic regimens for chronic airway infections in clinically stable adolescent and adult CF patients. Thirty-nine participants were randomized to biofilm or conventional treatment groups; 14-day courses of two antibiotics were selected according to an activity-based algorithm using the corresponding susceptibility results.
Of the agents tested, meropenem was most active against biofilm-grown bacteria, and was included in regimens for about half of each study group. For nineteen of 39 randomized participants, randomization to the other study group would not have changed the antibiotic classes of the assigned regimen. Study groups were comparable at baseline, and had similar mean decreases in bacterial density, measured in log10 colony forming units per gram of sputum (biofilm, -2.94 [SD 2.83], versus conventional, -3.27 [SD 3.09]), and mean increases in forced expiratory volume in one second, measured in liters (0.18 [SD 0.20] versus 0.12 [SD 0.22]).
In this pilot study, antibiotic regimens based on biofilm testing did not differ significantly from regimens based on conventional testing in terms of microbiological and clinical responses. The predictive value of biofilm testing may nonetheless warrant evaluation in an adequately powered clinical trial in younger CF patients or those experiencing acute pulmonary exacerbation.
PMCID: PMC3479399  PMID: 20963843
Pseudomonas aeruginosa; intravenous antibiotics; antibiotic resistance; antibiotic susceptibility testing; broth microdilution testing; inhibitory quotient; sputum bacterial density; lung function
22.  Assembly and Development of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilm Matrix 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(3):e1000354.
Virtually all cells living in multicellular structures such as tissues and organs are encased in an extracellular matrix. One of the most important features of a biofilm is the extracellular polymeric substance that functions as a matrix, holding bacterial cells together. Yet very little is known about how the matrix forms or how matrix components encase bacteria during biofilm development. Pseudomonas aeruginosa forms environmentally and clinically relevant biofilms and is a paradigm organism for the study of biofilms. The extracellular polymeric substance of P. aeruginosa biofilms is an ill-defined mix of polysaccharides, nucleic acids, and proteins. Here, we directly visualize the product of the polysaccharide synthesis locus (Psl exopolysaccharide) at different stages of biofilm development. During attachment, Psl is anchored on the cell surface in a helical pattern. This promotes cell–cell interactions and assembly of a matrix, which holds bacteria in the biofilm and on the surface. Chemical dissociation of Psl from the bacterial surface disrupted the Psl matrix as well as the biofilm structure. During biofilm maturation, Psl accumulates on the periphery of 3-D-structured microcolonies, resulting in a Psl matrix-free cavity in the microcolony center. At the dispersion stage, swimming cells appear in this matrix cavity. Dead cells and extracellular DNA (eDNA) are also concentrated in the Psl matrix-free area. Deletion of genes that control cell death and autolysis affects the formation of the matrix cavity and microcolony dispersion. These data provide a mechanism for how P. aeruginosa builds a matrix and subsequently a cavity to free a portion of cells for seeding dispersal. Direct visualization reveals that Psl is a key scaffolding matrix component and opens up avenues for therapeutics of biofilm-related complications.
Author Summary
Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes life-threatening, persistent infections in cystic fibrosis patients, despite highly aggressive antimicrobial therapy. Persistence is due, in part, to the ability of these bacteria to form surface-associated communities (biofilms) enmeshed in an extracellular matrix. This matrix is a poorly defined mixture of protein, polysaccharide, and DNA. An understanding of the organization and composition of the biofilm matrix will assist in the development of therapeutics aimed at disrupting biofilms. Using reagents that specifically recognize the P. aeruginosa Psl exopolysaccharide, we visualized matrix formation in real time during a biofilm development cycle. This revealed a highly organized and coordinated assembly of both polysaccharide and DNA components of the matrix. At late stages of biofilm morphogenesis, a Psl-free matrix cavity, occupied with numerous motile cells, developed. Mutants with reduced cell lysis were unable to form the Psl matrix cavity, whereas those with elevated cell death and lysis formed a larger matrix cavity, leading to accelerated dispersion. We propose that programmed cell death and autolysis are critical for the proper timing of biofilm development and dispersion. The data indicate that Psl is a key scaffolding component of the biofilm matrix, a property that likely plays a critical role in P. aeruginosa persistence.
PMCID: PMC2654510  PMID: 19325879
23.  Molecular Mechanisms of Biofilm Infection: Biofilm Virulence Factors 
Advances in Wound Care  2012;1(3):109-114.
Numerous planktonic virulence factors have been identified that enable bacteria to successfully produce acute infections in tissues. In contrast, very little is known about biofilm virulence factors that enhance the establishment and long-term survival of biofilms in tissues.
The Problem
There is a need to identify the genes that encode biofilm virulence factors and understand how these factors function to enable bacteria to successfully establish chronic biofilm infections in tissues.
Basic Science Advances
A methodology was developed to screen 6,912 Pseudomonas aeruginosa loss-of-function mutants in a murine model of airway infection to determine which genes were crucial for establishing chronic lung infections in mice. Genetic analysis of 16 bacterial mutants isolated using this methodology identified 15 separate biofilm virulence factor genes whose loss-of-function increased biofilm survival. Sequence analysis of clinical Isolates obtained from seven cystic fibrosis (CF) patients with chronic infections that were collected over 16.3 years identified loss-of-function mutants for 7 of these 15 genes.
Clinical Care Relevance
Identifying biofilm virulence factor genes further defines the molecular mechanisms of establishing chronic biofilm infection and should lead to more effective and specific treatments to prevent biofilm formation and/or improve clearance of chronic biofilms in patients.
Biofilm virulence factor genes were identified in P. aeruginosa using an animal model of chronic lung infection for mutant screening and from infected CF patient isolates. In many cases they were inactivated planktonic virulence factor genes. These results further demonstrate the opposing patterns of gene expression between acute planktonic bacterial infections and chronic biofilm infections.
PMCID: PMC3839007  PMID: 24527289
24.  Efficacy of the Combination of Tobramycin and a Macrolide in an In Vitro Pseudomonas aeruginosa Mature Biofilm Model▿  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2010;54(10):4409-4415.
Respiratory disease is the main cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). In particular, patients suffer from chronic infection due to biofilm formation by opportunistic Pseudomonas aeruginosa (32). Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop alternative ways to treat biofilm-associated clinical infections. The aim of this study was to compare the antimicrobial effects in vitro of the combinations tobramycin-clarithromycin and tobramycin-azithromycin against five P. aeruginosa biofilms and to establish the most effective combination. We performed a kinetic study over a period of 28 days of a twice-daily coadministration of the combinations tobramycin-clarithromycin and tobramycin-azithromycin on 12-day-old, mature P. aeruginosa biofilms formed on microplate pegs for 4 clinical isolates and one laboratory strain (PAO1) to simulate the treatment of CF patients with tobramycin inhalation solution (TOBI) through aerosolization. A synergy between tobramycin and clarithromycin was recorded for 3/5 biofilms, with a bacterial decrease of more than 5 log. Conversely, we found an antagonistic activity when 4 μg/ml tobramycin was administered with azithromycin at 2 μg/ml for P. aeruginosa PAO1 and with azithromycin at 2, 20, 50, 100, and 200 μg/ml for P. aeruginosa PYO1. Treatment with tobramycin at 4 μg/ml combined with clarithromycin at 200 μg/ml eradicated all five biofilms, while tobramycin-azithromycin at the same concentrations eradicated only three biofilms. Results of this study suggest that local administration of tobramycin and clarithromycin into the respiratory tract represents a better strategy than the combination tobramycin-azithromycin for the treatment of P. aeruginosa-associated pulmonary infections.
PMCID: PMC2944582  PMID: 20696878
25.  Antibiotic susceptibility of coagulase-negative staphylococci isolated from very low birth weight babies: comprehensive comparisons of bacteria at different stages of biofilm formation 
Coagulase-negative staphylococci are major causes of bloodstream infections in very low birth weight babies cared for in Neonatal Intensive Care Units. The virulence of these bacteria is mainly due to their ability to form biofilms on indwelling medical devices. Biofilm-related infections often fail to respond to antibiotic chemotherapy guided by conventional antibiotic susceptibility tests.
Coagulase-negative staphylococcal blood culture isolates were grown in different phases relevant to biofilm formation: planktonic cells at mid-log phase, planktonic cells at stationary phase, adherent monolayers and mature biofilms and their susceptibilities to conventional antibiotics were assessed. The effects of oxacillin, gentamicin, and vancomycin on preformed biofilms, at the highest achievable serum concentrations were examined. Epifluorescence microscopy and confocal laser scanning microscopy in combination with bacterial viability staining and polysaccharide staining were used to confirm the stimulatory effects of antibiotics on biofilms.
Most coagulase-negative staphylococcal clinical isolates were resistant to penicillin G (100%), gentamicin (83.3%) and oxacillin (91.7%) and susceptible to vancomycin (100%), ciprofloxacin (100%), and rifampicin (79.2%). Bacteria grown as adherent monolayers showed similar susceptibilities to their planktonic counterparts at mid-log phase. Isolates in a biofilm growth mode were more resistant to antibiotics than both planktonic cultures at mid-log phase and adherent monolayers; however they were equally resistant or less resistant than planktonic cells at stationary phase. Moreover, for some cell-wall active antibiotics, concentrations higher than conventional MICs were required to prevent the establishment of planktonic cultures from biofilms. Finally, the biofilm-growth of two S. capitis isolates could be enhanced by oxacillin at the highest achievable serum concentration.
We conclude that the resistance of coagulase-negative staphylococci to multiple antibiotics initially remain similar when the bacteria shift from a planktonic growth mode into an early attached mode, then increase significantly as the adherent mode further develops. Furthermore, preformed biofilms of some CoNS are enhanced by oxacillin in a dose-dependent manner.
PMCID: PMC2902406  PMID: 20504376

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