A physical linkage between cystic fibrosis airway surface dehydration and Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms


A vexing problem in cystic fibrosis (CF) pathogenesis has been to explain the high prevalence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms in CF airways. We speculated that airway surface liquid (ASL) hyperabsorption generates a concentrated airway mucus that interacts with P. aeruginosa to promote biofilms. To model CF vs. normal airway infections, normal (2.5% solids) and CF-like concen-trated (8% solids) mucus were prepared, placed in flat chambers, and infected with an Ϸ5 ؋ 10 3 strain PAO1 P. aeruginosa. Although bacteria grew to 10 10 cfu/ml in both mucus concentrations, mac-rocolony formation was detected only in the CF-like (8% solids) mucus. Biophysical and functional measurements revealed that concentrated mucus exhibited properties that restrict bacterial motility and small molecule diffusion, resulting in high local bac-terial densities with high autoinducer concentrations. These prop-erties also rendered secondary forms of antimicrobial defense, e.g., lactoferrin, ineffective in preventing biofilm formation in a CF-like mucus environment. These data link airway surface liquid hypera-bsorption to the high incidence of P. aeruginosa biofilms in CF via changes in the hydration-dependent physical– chemical properties of mucus and suggest that the thickened mucus gel model will be useful to develop therapies of P. aeruginosa biofilms in CF airways.