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  • Gene Transfer Efficiency in Gonococcal Biofilms: Role of Biofilm Age, Architecture, and Pilin Antigenic Variation.

Gene Transfer Efficiency in Gonococcal Biofilms: Role of Biofilm Age, Architecture, and Pilin Antigenic Variation.

Journal of bacteriology (2015-05-13)
Nadzeya Kouzel, Enno R Oldewurtel, Berenike Maier
ABSTRACT

Extracellular DNA is an important structural component of many bacterial biofilms. It is unknown, however, to which extent external DNA is used to transfer genes by means of transformation. Here, we quantified the acquisition of multidrug resistance and visualized its spread under selective and nonselective conditions in biofilms formed by Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The density and architecture of the biofilms were controlled by microstructuring the substratum for bacterial adhesion. Horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance genes between cocultured strains, each carrying a single resistance, occurred efficiently in early biofilms. The efficiency of gene transfer was higher in early biofilms than between planktonic cells. It was strongly reduced after 24 h and independent of biofilm density. Pilin antigenic variation caused a high fraction of nonpiliated bacteria but was not responsible for the reduced gene transfer at later stages. When selective pressure was applied to dense biofilms using antibiotics at their MIC, the double-resistant bacteria did not show a significant growth advantage. In loosely connected biofilms, the spreading of double-resistant clones was prominent. We conclude that multidrug resistance readily develops in early gonococcal biofilms through horizontal gene transfer. However, selection and spreading of the multiresistant clones are heavily suppressed in dense biofilms. Biofilms are considered ideal reaction chambers for horizontal gene transfer and development of multidrug resistances. The rate at which genes are exchanged within biofilms is unknown. Here, we quantified the acquisition of double-drug resistance by gene transfer between gonococci with single resistances. At early biofilm stages, the transfer efficiency was higher than for planktonic cells but then decreased with biofilm age. The surface topography affected the architecture of the biofilm. While the efficiency of gene transfer was independent of the architecture, spreading of double-resistant bacteria under selective conditions was strongly enhanced in loose biofilms. We propose that while biofilms help generating multiresistant strains, selection takes place mostly after dispersal from the biofilm.

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