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Nat Rev Microbiol. 2017 Aug;15(8):453-464. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro.2017.42. Epub 2017 May 22.

Persistent bacterial infections and persister cells.

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MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection, Flowers Building, Armstrong Road, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


Many bacteria can infect and persist inside their hosts for long periods of time. This can be due to immunosuppression of the host, immune evasion by the pathogen and/or ineffective killing by antibiotics. Bacteria can survive antibiotic treatment if they are resistant or tolerant to a drug. Persisters are a subpopulation of transiently antibiotic-tolerant bacterial cells that are often slow-growing or growth-arrested, and are able to resume growth after a lethal stress. The formation of persister cells establishes phenotypic heterogeneity within a bacterial population and has been hypothesized to be important for increasing the chances of successfully adapting to environmental change. The presence of persister cells can result in the recalcitrance and relapse of persistent bacterial infections, and it has been linked to an increase in the risk of the emergence of antibiotic resistance during treatment. If the mechanisms of the formation and regrowth of these antibiotic-tolerant cells were better understood, it could lead to the development of new approaches for the eradication of persistent bacterial infections. In this Review, we discuss recent developments in our understanding of bacterial persisters and their potential implications for the treatment of persistent infections.

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