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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2015 Mar;59(3):1707-17. doi: 10.1128/AAC.04581-14. Epub 2015 Jan 12.

Sublethal concentrations of carbapenems alter cell morphology and genomic expression of Klebsiella pneumoniae biofilms.

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Microbiology Branch, U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, Institute of Surgical Research, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, Texas, USA.
The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Microbiology Branch, U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, Institute of Surgical Research, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, Texas, USA


Klebsiella pneumoniae, a Gram-negative bacterium, is normally associated with pneumonia in patients with weakened immune systems. However, it is also a prevalent nosocomial infectious agent that can be found in infected surgical sites and combat wounds. Many of these clinical strains display multidrug resistance. We have worked with a clinical strain of K. pneumoniae that was initially isolated from a wound of an injured soldier. This strain demonstrated resistance to many commonly used antibiotics but sensitivity to carbapenems. This isolate was capable of forming biofilms in vitro, contributing to its increased antibiotic resistance and impaired clearance. We were interested in determining how sublethal concentrations of carbapenem treatment specifically affect K. pneumoniae biofilms both in morphology and in genomic expression. Scanning electron microscopy showed striking morphological differences between untreated and treated biofilms, including rounding, blebbing, and dimpling of treated cells. Comparative transcriptome analysis using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) technology identified a large number of open reading frames (ORFs) differentially regulated in response to carbapenem treatment at 2 and 24 h. ORFs upregulated with carbapenem treatment included genes involved in resistance, as well as those coding for antiporters and autoinducers. ORFs downregulated included those coding for metal transporters, membrane biosynthesis proteins, and motility proteins. Quantitative real-time PCR validated the general trend of some of these differentially regulated ORFs. Treatment of K. pneumoniae biofilms with sublethal concentrations of carbapenems induced a wide range of phenotypic and gene expression changes. This study reveals some of the mechanisms underlying how sublethal amounts of carbapenems could affect the overall fitness and pathogenic potential of K. pneumoniae biofilm cells.

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