Antibiotic Tolerance: Distinguishing between Classical Resistance and Persistence in a Macrophage Infection Model
Burkholderia pseudomallei is a Gram-negative bacillus and facultative intracellular pathogen. It causes the disease melioidosis, which is a potentially fatal human disease found throughout the world but particularly in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. B. pseudomallei is inherently antibiotic resistant and therefore new therapies are needed to combat this pathogen. Previous studies with the related organism Burkholderia thailandensis have shown that the antibiotic ceftazidime does not eliminate all bacteria in an in vitro macrophage model, and the remaining bacteria could still pose a health threat to a potential host. Due to their survival in the presence of antibiotics, we hypothesized that the remaining bacteria were one of two types of antibiotic tolerant cells: classically antibiotic resistant cells or persister cells. To test our hypothesis we isolated the bacteria that had survived ceftazidime treatment in the macrophage infection model and performed additional in vitro experiments to show that the surviving bacteria are neither antibiotic resistant nor persister cells. Instead, they are still susceptible to high doses (200 μg/ml) of the antibiotic over a period of 48 hours (p<0.001). We believe the bacteria survive exposure to the antibiotic during the macrophage infection because of their ability to move between intracellular and extracellular compartments, thus avoiding the antibiotic and its deadly effects. Our results provide evidence to suggest that intracellular pathogens, through movement between intracellular and extracellular compartments, may be protected from the effects of antibiotics in similar macrophage infection models.
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