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J Clin Microbiol. 2010 May;48(5):1720-5. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01562-09. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

Escherichia coli variants in periprosthetic joint infection: diagnostic challenges with sessile bacteria and sonication.

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Unit of Infectious Diseases, Basel University Medical Clinic Liestal, and Clinic of Orthopedic Surgery, Cantonal Hospital, Rheinstrasse 26, 4410 Liestal, Switzerland.


The diagnostic yield of prosthetic joint-associated infection is hampered by the phenotypic change of bacteria into a sessile and resistant form, also called biofilm. With sonication, adherent bacteria can be dislodged from the prosthesis. Species identification may be difficult because of their variations in phenotypic appearance and biochemical reaction. We have studied the phenotypic, genotypic, and biochemical properties of Escherichia coli variants isolated from a periprosthetic joint infection. The strains were collected from synovial fluid, periprosthetic tissue, and fluid from the explanted and sonicated prosthesis. Isolates from synovial fluid revealed a normal phenotype, whereas a few variants from periprosthetic tissue and all isolates from sonication fluid showed different morphological features (including small-colony variants). All isolates from sonication fluid were beta-galactosidase negative and nonmotile; most were indole negative. Because of further variations in biochemical properties, species identification was false or not possible in 50% of the isolates included in this study. In contrast to normal phenotypes, variants were resistant to aminoglycosides. Typing of the isolates using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis yielded nonidentical banding patterns, but all strains were assigned to the same clonal origin when compared with 207 unrelated E. coli isolates. The bacteria were repeatedly passaged on culture media and reanalyzed. Thereafter, most variants reverted to normal phenotype and regained their motility and certain biochemical properties. In addition, some variants displayed aminoglycoside susceptibility after reversion. Sonication of an explanted prosthesis allows insight into the lifestyle of bacteria in biofilms. Since sonication fluid also reveals dislodged sessile forms, species identification of such variants may be misleading.

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