Sensitizing bacterial cells to antibiotics by shape recovery triggered biofilm dispersion

Sang Won Lee, Huan Gu, James Bryan Kilberg, Dacheng Ren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Microbial biofilms are a leading cause of chronic infections in humans and persistent biofouling in industries due to extremely high-level tolerance of biofilm cells to antimicrobial agents. Eradicating mature biofilms is especially challenging because of the protection of the extracellular matrix and slow growth of biofilm cells. Recently, we reported that established biofilms can be effectively removed (e.g. 99.9% dispersion of 48 h Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 biofilms) by shape memory polymer-based dynamic changes in surface topography. Here, we demonstrate that such biofilm dispersion also sensitizes biofilm cells to conventional antibiotics. For example, shape recovery in the presence of 50 µg/mL tobramycin reduced biofilm cell counts by more than 3 logs (2,479-fold) compared to the static flat control. The observed effects were attributed to the disruption of biofilm structure and increase in cellular activities as evidenced by an 11.8-fold increase in intracellular level of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and 4.1-fold increase in expression of the rrnB gene in detached cells. These results can help guide the design of new control methods to better combat biofilm associated antibiotic-resistant infections. Statement of Significance: Microbial infections are challenging due to high-level antibiotic resistance of biofilm cells. The protection of an extracellular matrix and slow growth of biofilm cells render conventional antibiotics ineffective. Thus, it is important to develop new technologies that can remove mature biofilms and sensitize biofilm cells to antibiotics. Recently, we demonstrated that dynamic change in surface topography can remove 48 h Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 biofilms by 99.9%. In this study, we investigated how shape recovery triggered dispersion affect the physiology of biofilm cells and associated antibiotic susceptibility. These results are helpful for understanding biofilm dispersion and developing more effective control methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-102
Number of pages10
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • ATP
  • Antibiotic susceptibility
  • Antifouling
  • Biofilm
  • Removal
  • Shape memory polymer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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