UI researchers develop test indicating cystic fibrosis lungs are infected with bacterial biofilms

IOWA CITY, Iowa A laboratory test developed by University of Iowa researchers indicates that the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients are infected primarily with bacterial biofilms, organized communities of bacterial cells that are extremely resistant to antibiotic treatment.

Infection by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) is the main cause of death in patients with CF. The Pseudomonas is able to set up permanent residence in the lungs of patients with CF where it is impossible to kill, even with powerful antibiotic treatment. In addition, CF patients own immune systems seem to overreact to the bacteria, damaging tissue and eventually destroying the lungs.

"This high level of antibiotic resistance and a host immune response that does more harm than good are the hallmarks of a bacterial biofilm," said E. Peter Greenberg, Ph.D., Virgil L. and Evalyn Shepperd Endowed Professor of Molecular Pathogenisis and UI professor of microbiology. He is an author of a study that appears in the October 12 issue of the journal Nature.

Biofilms are organized communities of bacterial cells encased in a self-produced slime. The bacterial cells produce signaling molecules, also called quorum-sensing molecules, that allow the cells to communicate with each other. At a critical cell density, these signals have accumulated and trigger the expression of a specific set of genes, which results in the formation of the biofilm. By growing as a biofilm, bacteria can survive and thrive in hostile environments.

Although the P. aeruginosa isolated from the lungs of CF patients looks like a biofilm and acts like a biofilm, until now there has not been an objective test available to confirm that it is a biofilm. The researchers also did not know what proportion of the P. aeruginosa might be in a biofilm in the lung.

"We needed a way to show that the Pseudomonas in CF lungs was communicating like a biofilm. That could tell us about the Pseudo

Contact: Jennifer Brown
University of Iowa

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