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Author Notes:

Address correspondence to B. R. Levin, blevin@emory.edu.


Research Funding:

This work was supported by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health GM091875 (B.R.L.) and a grant from Proctor and Gamble Inc.

The Relative Contributions of Physical Structure and Cell Density to the Antibiotic Susceptibility of Bacteria in Biofilms


Journal Title:

Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy


Volume 56, Number 6


, Pages 2967-2975

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


For many bacterial infections, noninherited mechanisms of resistance are responsible for extending the term of treatment and in some cases precluding its success. Among the most important of these noninherited mechanisms of resistance is the ability of bacteria to form biofilms. There is compelling evidence that bacteria within biofilms are more refractory to antibiotics than are planktonic cells. Not so clear, however, is the extent to which this resistance can be attributed to the structure of biofilms rather than the physiology and density of bacteria within them. To explore the contribution of the structure of biofilms to resistance in a quantitative way, we developed an assay that compares the antibiotic sensitivity of bacteria in biofilms to cells mechanically released from these structures. Our method, which we apply to Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus each with antibiotics of five classes, controls for the density and physiological state of the treated bacteria. For most of the antibiotics tested, the bacteria in biofilms were no more resistant than the corresponding populations of planktonic cells of similar density. Our results, however, suggest that killing by gentamicin, streptomycin, and colistin is profoundly inhibited by the structure of biofilms; these drugs are substantially more effective in killing bacteria released from biofilms than cells within these structures.

Copyright information:

© 2012, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

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