Burkholderia pseudomallei, a Gram-negative bacterium that causes melioidosis, was reported to produce biofilm. As the disease causes high relapse rate when compared to other bacterial infections, it therefore might be due to the reactivation of the biofilm forming bacteria which also provided resistance to antimicrobial agents. However, the mechanism on how biofilm can provide tolerance to antimicrobials is still unclear.
The change in resistance of B. pseudomallei to doxycycline, ceftazidime, imipenem, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole during biofilm formation were measured as minimum biofilm elimination concentration (MBEC) in 50 soil and clinical isolates and also in capsule, flagellin, LPS and biofilm mutants. Almost all planktonic isolates were susceptible to all agents studied. In contrast, when they were grown in the condition that induced biofilm formation, they were markedly resistant to all antimicrobial agents even though the amount of biofilm production was not the same. The capsule and O-side chains of LPS mutants had no effect on biofilm formation whereas the flagellin-defective mutant markedly reduced in biofilm production. No alteration of LPS profiles was observed when susceptible form was changed to resistance. The higher amount of N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) was detected in the high biofilm-producing isolates. Interestingly, the biofilm mutant which produced a very low amount of biofilm and was sensitive to antimicrobial agents significantly resisted those agents when grown in biofilm inducing condition.
The possible drug resistance mechanism of biofilm mutants and other isolates is not by having biofilm but rather from some factors that up-regulated when biofilm formation genes were stimulated. The understanding of genes related to this situation may lead us to prevent B. pseudomallei biofilms leading to the relapse of melioidosis.