Differential antibiotic susceptibility of Mycobacterium abscessus variants in biofilms and macrophages compared to that of planktonic bacteria

Rebecca Greendyke, Thomas F Byrd
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 2008, 52 (6): 2019-26
Mycobacterium abscessus causes refractory pulmonary infections requiring surgery for cure. It exists as a smooth biofilm-forming phenotype which is noninvasive and a rough, non-biofilm-forming phenotype which can invade macrophages and cause persistent pulmonary infection in mice. We have postulated that the dissociation of the smooth phenotype to the rough phenotype may lead to invasive lung disease following initial colonization of the airways. Amikacin, cefoxitin, and clarithromycin are standard therapies for this infection. We determined the MICs of these antibiotics against this pathogen in biofilms and macrophages, the niches that it likely occupies in the human host. Our results demonstrate that even though the MICs indicate sensitivity to these antibiotics, the minimal bactericidal concentrations for amikacin and clarithromycin were substantially higher and were out of the range of the concentrations achievable in serum. Cefoxitin demonstrated only bacteriostatic activity. In addition, although amikacin had modest activity against M. abscessus in biofilms, clarithromycin demonstrated only minimal activity at the highest concentrations tested. Our results indicate that M. abscessus in mature biofilms is in a stationary-phase state and that clarithromycin is relatively inactive against stationary-phase M. abscessus. In human macrophages, all three antibiotics were only bacteriostatic for M. abscessus variants at 10 times their MICs. These results suggest why treatment failure with antibiotics alone is common in the clinical setting of M. abscessus pulmonary infection. Determination of the efficacies of new antibiotics should include an assessment of their activities against the smooth and rough M. abscessus morphotypes in biofilms and macrophages.

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