Biofilm/Persister/Stationary Phase Bacteria Cause More Severe Disease Than Log Phase Bacteria II Infection with Persister Forms of Staphylococcus aureus Causes a Chronic Persistent Skin Infection with More Severe Lesion that Takes Longer to Heal and is not Eradicated by the Current Recommended Treatment in Mice
Staphylococcus aureus is an opportunistic pathogen that can cause persistent infections clinically. Treatment for chronic S. aureus infections ranges from at least one week to several months and such infections are prone to relapse likely due to the presence of persistent forms of bacteria such as persister cells. Persister cells, which are bacterial cells that become dormant under stress conditions, can be isolated in vitro but their clinical significance in in vivo infections are largely unclear. Here, we evaluated S. aureus persistent forms using stationary phase cultures and biofilm bacteria (enriched in persisters) in comparison with log phase cultures in terms of their ability to cause disease in a mouse skin infection model. Surprisingly, we found that infection of mice with stationary phase cultures and biofilm bacteria produced a more severe chronic skin infection with more pronounced lesions which took longer to heal than log phase (actively growing) cultures. After two week infection, the bacterial load and skin tissue pathology, as determined by hyperplasia, immune cell infiltration, and crust/lesion formation, of mice infected with the more persistent forms (e.g. stationary phase bacteria and biofilm bacteria) were greater than mice infected with log phase bacteria. Using our persistent infection mouse model, we showed that the clinically recommended treatment for recurrent S. aureus skin infection, doxycycline + rifampin, was not effective in eradicating the bacteria in the treatment study, despite reducing lesion sizes and pathology in infected mice. Analogous findings were also observed in a Caenorhabditis elegans model, where S. aureus stationary phase cultures caused a greater mortality than log phase culture as early as two days post-infection. Thus, we established a new model for chronic persistent infections using persister bacteria that could serve as a relevant model to evaluate therapeutic options for persistent infections in general. Our findings connect persisters with persistent infections, have implications for understanding disease pathogenesis, and are likely to be broadly valid for other pathogens.
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