Gel-Entrapped Staphylococcus aureus Bacteria as Models of Biofilm Infection Exhibit Growth in Dense Aggregates, Oxygen Limitation, Antibiotic Tolerance, and Heterogeneous Gene Expression


Breana Pabst, Betsey Pitts, Ellen Lauchnor, Philip S Stewart


Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy


Abstract An experimental model that mimicked the structure and characteristics of in vivo biofilm infections, such as those occurring in the lung or in dermal wounds where no biomaterial surface is present, was developed. In these infections, microbial biofilm forms as cell aggregates interspersed in a layer of mucus or host matrix material. This structure was modeled by filling glass capillary tubes with an agarose gel that had been seeded with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and then incubating the gel biofilm in medium for up to 30 h. Confocal microscopy showed that the bacteria formed in discrete pockets distributed throughout the gel matrix. These aggregates enlarged over time and also developed a size gradient, with the clusters being larger near the nutrient- and oxygen-supplied interface and smaller at greater depths. Bacteria entrapped in gels for 24 h grew slowly (specific growth rate, 0.06 h(-1)) and were much less susceptible to oxacillin, minocycline, or ciprofloxacin than planktonic cells. Microelectrode measurements showed that the oxygen concentration decreased with depth into the gel biofilm, falling to values less than 3% of air saturation at depths of 500 mum. An anaerobiosis-responsive green fluorescent protein reporter gene for lactate dehydrogenase was induced in the region of the gel where the measured oxygen concentrations were low, confirming biologically relevant hypoxia. These results show that the gel biofilm model captures key features of biofilm infection in mucus or compromised tissue: formation of dense, distinct aggregates, reduced specific growth rates, local hypoxia, and antibiotic tolerance.




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