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mSphere. 2017 Jul 19;2(4). pii: e00211-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00211-17. eCollection 2017 Jul-Aug.

Visualizing Antimicrobials in Bacterial Biofilms: Three-Dimensional Biochemical Imaging Using TOF-SIMS.

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Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.
Department of Materials, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.
Department of Life Sciences, MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection, London, United Kingdom.
Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom.
School of Biological Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Bacterial biofilms are groups of bacteria that exist within a self-produced extracellular matrix, adhering to each other and usually to a surface. They grow on medical equipment and inserts such as catheters and are responsible for many persistent infections throughout the body, as they can have high resistance to many antimicrobials. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen that can cause both acute and chronic infections and is used as a model for research into biofilms. Direct biochemical methods of imaging of molecules in bacterial biofilms are of high value in gaining a better understanding of the fundamental biology of biofilms and biochemical gradients within them. Time of flight-secondary-ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) is one approach, which combines relatively high spatial resolution and sensitivity and can perform depth profiling analysis. It has been used to analyze bacterial biofilms but has not yet been used to study the distribution of antimicrobials (including antibiotics and the antimicrobial metal gallium) within biofilms. Here we compared two methods of imaging of the interior structure of P. aeruginosa in biological samples using TOF-SIMS, looking at both antimicrobials and endogenous biochemicals: cryosectioning of tissue samples and depth profiling to give pseudo-three-dimensional (pseudo-3D) images. The sample types included both simple biofilms grown on glass slides and bacteria growing in tissues in an ex vivo pig lung model. The two techniques for the 3D imaging of biofilms are potentially valuable complementary tools for analyzing bacterial infection. IMPORTANCE Modern analytical techniques are becoming increasingly important in the life sciences; imaging mass spectrometry offers the opportunity to gain unprecedented amounts of information on the distribution of chemicals in samples-both xenobiotics and endogenous compounds. In particular, simultaneous imaging of antibiotics (and other antimicrobial compounds) and bacterium-derived metabolites in complex biological samples could be very important in the future for helping to understand how sample matrices impact the survival of bacteria under antibiotic challenge. We have shown that an imaging mass spectrometric technique, TOF-SIMS, will be potentially extremely valuable for this kind of research in the future.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa; TOF-SIMS; biofilms; imaging

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