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Microb Pathog. 2008 Sep;45(3):201-6. doi: 10.1016/j.micpath.2008.05.004. Epub 2008 Jun 3.

Interaction of pneumococcal phase variation and middle ear pressure/gas composition: an in vitro model of simulated otitis media.

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Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 8100 Rangos Research Center, 3460 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Streptococcus pneumoniae, a leading cause of otitis media (OM), undergoes spontaneous intra-strain variations in colony morphology. Transparent (T) variant is more efficient in colonizing the nasopharynx while the opaque (O) variant exhibits greater virulence during systemic infections. We hypothesized that changes in middle ear (ME) gas pressure/composition during Eustachian tube (ET) dysfunction and the treatment of that dysfunction, e.g., tympanostomy tube (TT) insertion, play a role in selecting the S. pneumoniae variant that can efficiently colonize/infect the ME mucosa. Human ME epithelial cells were preconditioned for 24h under one of three conditions that simulated (1) normal ME, (2) ME with ET obstruction (ETO) and (3) ME with TT; subsequently exposed to a dose (approximately 10(7)CFU/ml) of either T or O variant of S. pneumoniae, and then incubated for 1h and 3h. Under the simulated ETO and TT conditions, T variant exhibited a higher growth rate and greater epithelial adherence and killing than did O variants. Attachment of T variant to epithelial cells was documented by scanning electron microscopy. These results suggest that the T variant is more highly adapted to various ME environments than the O variants.

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