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Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

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Biofilm formation by Propionibacterium acnes is a characteristic of invasive isolates

Author(s): Holmberg A, Lood R, Mörgelin M


Propionibacterium acnes is a common and probably underestimated cause of delayed joint prosthesis infection. Bacterial biofilm formation is central in the pathogenesis of infections related to foreign material, and P. acnes has been shown to form biofilm both in vitro and in vivo. Here, biofilm formation by 93 P. acnes isolates, either from invasive infections (n = 45) or from the skin of healthy people (n = 48), was analysed. The majority of isolates from deep infections produced biofilm in a microtitre model of biofilm formation, whereas the skin isolates were poor biofilm producers (p <0.001 for a difference). This indicates a role for biofilm formation in P. acnes virulence. The type distribution, as determined by sequencing of recA, was similar among isolates isolated from skin and from deep infections, demonstrating that P. acnes isolates with different genetic backgrounds have pathogenic potential. The biofilm formed on plastic and on bone cement was analysed by scanning electron microscopy (EM) and by transmission EM. The biofilm was seen as a 10-µm-thick layer covering the bacteria and was composed of filamentous as well as more amorphous structures. Interestingly, the presence of human plasma in solution or at the plastic surface inhibits biofilm formation, which could explain why P. acnes primarily infect plasma-poor environments of, for example, joint prostheses and cerebrospinal shunts. This work underlines the importance of biofilm formation in P. acnes pathogenesis, and shows that biofilm formation should be considered in the diagnosis and treatment of invasive P. acnes infections.

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