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J Bacteriol. 2001 Dec;183(23):6746-51.

Biofilms and planktonic cells of Pseudomonas aeruginosa have similar resistance to killing by antimicrobials.

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Department of Biology, Northeastern University, 405 Mugar, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston, MS 02115, USA.


Biofilms are considered to be highly resistant to antimicrobial agents. Strictly speaking, this is not the case-biofilms do not grow in the presence of antimicrobials any better than do planktonic cells. Biofilms are indeed highly resistant to killing by bactericidal antimicrobials, compared to logarithmic-phase planktonic cells, and therefore exhibit tolerance. It is assumed that biofilms are also significantly more tolerant than stationary-phase planktonic cells. A detailed comparative examination of tolerance of biofilms versus stationary- and logarithmic-phase planktonic cells with four different antimicrobial agents was performed in this study. Carbenicillin appeared to be completely ineffective against both stationary-phase cells and biofilms. Killing by this beta-lactam antibiotic depends on rapid growth, and this result confirms the notion of slow-growing biofilms resembling the stationary state. Ofloxacin is a fluoroquinolone antibiotic that kills nongrowing cells, and biofilms and stationary-phase cells were comparably tolerant to this antibiotic. The majority of cells in both populations were eradicated at low levels of ofloxacin, leaving a fraction of essentially invulnerable persisters. The bulk of the population in both biofilm and stationary-phase cultures was tolerant to tobramycin. At very high tobramycin concentrations, a fraction of persister cells became apparent in stationary-phase culture. Stationary-phase cells were more tolerant to the biocide peracetic acid than were biofilms. In general, stationary-phase cells were somewhat more tolerant than biofilms in all of the cases examined. We concluded that, at least for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the model organisms for biofilm studies, the notion that biofilms have greater resistance than do planktonic cells is unwarranted. We further suggest that tolerance to antibiotics in stationary-phase or biofilm cultures is largely dependent on the presence of persister cells.

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