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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2008 Jan;52(1):137-45. Epub 2007 Oct 22.

Subinhibitory concentrations of azithromycin decrease nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae biofilm formation and Diminish established biofilms.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, 2080H Medical Laboratories, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) commonly causes otitis media, chronic bronchitis in emphysema, and early airway infections in cystic fibrosis. Long-term, low-dose azithromycin has been shown to improve clinical outcomes in chronic lung diseases, although the mechanism of action remains unclear. The inhibition of bacterial biofilms by azithromycin has been postulated to be one mechanism mediating these effects. We hypothesized that subinhibitory concentrations of azithromycin would affect NTHi biofilm formation. Laboratory strains of NTHi expressing green fluorescent protein and azithromycin-resistant clinical isolates were grown in flow-cell and static-culture biofilm models. Using a range of concentrations of azithromycin and gentamicin, we measured the degree to which these antibiotics inhibited biofilm formation and persistence. Large biofilms formed over 2 to 4 days in a flow cell, displaying complex structures, including towers and channels. Subinhibitory concentrations of azithromycin significantly decreased biomass and maximal thickness in both forming and established NTHi biofilms. In contrast, subinhibitory concentrations of gentamicin had no effect on biofilm formation. Furthermore, established NTHi biofilms became resistant to gentamicin at concentrations far above the MIC. Biofilm formation of highly resistant clinical NTHi isolates (azithromycin MIC of > 64 microg/ml) was similarly decreased at subinhibitory azithromycin concentrations. Clinically obtainable azithromycin concentrations inhibited biofilms in all but the most highly resistant isolates. These data show that subinhibitory concentrations of azithromycin have antibiofilm properties, provide mechanistic insights, and supply an additional rationale for the use of azithromycin in chronic biofilm infections involving H. influenzae.

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