A biofilm is a structured consortium of bacteria embedded in a self-produced polymer matrix consisting of polysaccharide, protein and DNA. Bacterial biofilms cause chronic infections because they show increased tolerance to antibiotics and disinfectant chemicals as well as resisting phagocytosis and other components of the body's defence system. The persistence of, for example, staphylococcal infections related to foreign bodies is due to biofilm formation. Likewise, chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infection in cystic fibrosis patients is caused by biofilm-growing mucoid strains. Characteristically, gradients of nutrients and oxygen exist from the top to the bottom of biofilms and these gradients are associated with decreased bacterial metabolic activity and increased doubling times of the bacterial cells; it is these more or less dormant cells that are responsible for some of the tolerance to antibiotics. Biofilm growth is associated with an increased level of mutations as well as with quorum-sensing-regulated mechanisms. Conventional resistance mechanisms such as chromosomal beta-lactamase, upregulated efflux pumps and mutations in antibiotic target molecules in bacteria also contribute to the survival of biofilms. Biofilms can be prevented by early aggressive antibiotic prophylaxis or therapy and they can be treated by chronic suppressive therapy. A promising strategy may be the use of enzymes that can dissolve the biofilm matrix (e.g. DNase and alginate lyase) as well as quorum-sensing inhibitors that increase biofilm susceptibility to antibiotics.
International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, 2010, Vol 35, Issue 4, p. 322-332