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Environ Microbiol. 2009 Jan;11(1):126-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2008.01747.x. Epub 2008 Sep 11.

Swarming motility: a multicellular behaviour conferring antimicrobial resistance.

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INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Laval, Quebec, Canada, H7V 1B7.


Swarming is a type of social motility allowing the migration of highly differentiated bacterial cells. Swarming shares many similarities with biofilm communities, which are notable for their high resistance to antimicrobial agents. We investigate here if the swarming behaviour could also be associated with a widespread antimicrobial resistant phenotype. Challenged with 13 antibiotics from various classes, swarm cells of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Serratia marcescens, Burkholderia thailandensis and Bacillus subtilis showed higher resistance than their planktonic counterparts to all the antibiotics tested, except for the antimicrobial peptides. Using P. aeruginosa as a model, this multiresistant phenotype was shown to be transient and intrinsically linked to the swarming state. Resistance of swarm cells towards other antimicrobial agents, such as triclosan and a heavy metal (arsenite), was also observed. Neither RND-type efflux pumps, including MexAB-OprM, MexCD-OprJ, MexEF-OprN and MexXY-OprM, nor a biofilm-associated resistance mechanism involving periplasmic glucans, appear to account for the resistance of swarm cells. Together with the high resistance of biofilms, these results support the hypothesis that antimicrobial resistance is a general feature of bacterial multicellularity. Swarming motility might thus represent a form of social behaviour useful as a model to investigate biofilm antibiotic resistance.

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