Microenvironmental characteristics and physiology of biofilms in chronic infections of CF patients are strongly affected by the host immune response
In vitro studies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and other pathogenic bacteria in biofilm aggregates have yielded detailed insight into their potential growth modes and metabolic flexibility under exposure to gradients of substrate and electron acceptor. However, the growth pattern of P. aeruginosa in chronic lung infections of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients is very different from what is observed in vitro, for example, in biofilms grown in flow chambers. Dense in vitro biofilms of P. aeruginosa exhibit rapid O2 depletion within <50–100 μm due to their own aerobic metabolism. In contrast, in vivo investigations show that P. aeruginosa persists in the chronically infected CF lung as relatively small cell aggregates that are surrounded by numerous PMNs, where the activity of PMNs is the major cause of O2 depletion rendering the P. aeruginosa aggregates anoxic. High levels of nitrate and nitrite enable P. aeruginosa to persist fueled by denitrification in the PMN‐surrounded biofilm aggregates. This configuration creates a potentially long‐term stable ecological niche for P. aeruginosa in the CF lung, which is largely governed by slow growth and anaerobic metabolism and enables persistence and resilience of this pathogen even under the recurring aggressive antimicrobial treatments of CF patients. As similar slow growth of other CF pathogens has recently been observed in endobronchial secretions, there is now a clear need for better in vitro models that simulate such in vivo growth patterns and anoxic microenvironments in order to help unravel the efficiency of existing or new antimicrobials targeting anaerobic metabolism in P. aeruginosa and other CF pathogens. We also advocate that host immune responses such as PMN‐driven O2 depletion play a central role in the formation of anoxic microniches governing bacterial persistence in other chronic infections such as chronic wounds.
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