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Am J Rhinol. 2007 May-Jun;21(3):339-45.

A sheep model for the study of biofilms in rhinosinusitis.

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  • 1Department of Surgery-Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, Australia and University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia.

Erratum in

  • Am J Rhinol. 2007 Jul-Aug;21(4):519.



Bacterial biofllms have been shown in chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, cholesteatoma, and otitis media with effusion. Recently, their detection on the mucosal tissue of sinusitis patients has implicated them in the pathogenesis of this condition. We present an animal model using sheep experimentally infected with Staphylococcus aureus to study the possible association between biofilm and sinusitis.


Twenty-four sheep underwent bilateral endoscopic sinus surgery to identify their frontal ostia. The frontal sinuses were treated in one of the following ways according to preoperative randomization: (1) ostium left patent, (2) ostium left patent and bacteria instilled, (3) ostium occluded, or (4) ostium occluded and bacteria instilled. The frontal mucosa was harvested at day 7 and examined for biofilm presence using confocal scanning laser microscopy (CSLM) as well as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM).


All three modalities showed different rates of biofilm detection. Three-dimensional structures that could be interpreted as biofilms were documented in 86% (n = 36) of the sinuses analyzed using SEM. These structures were seen in all four study groups. The detection rate using the other two modalities was much lower with CSLM, showing biofilms in 48% (n = 20) and TEM in only 29% (n = 12) of the sinuses analyzed. Unlike SEM, these two modalities only detected bacterial biofilms in sinuses randomized to bacterial instillation.


The demonstration of bacterial biofilms in this animal model of sinusitis further supports the hypotheses that biofilms may play a role in the pathogenesis of this condition. There is an obvious discrepancy in the sensitivity and specificity of biofilm detection using the three modalities mentioned. CSLM appears to be the most objective technique. The inherent flaws, sampling error, and subjectivity involved in SEM and TEM make these less reliable in documenting biofilm existence.

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