The gram-negative, oral bacterium Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans has been implicated as the causative agent of several forms of periodontal disease in humans. When cultured in broth, fresh clinical isolates of A. actinomycetemcomitans form tenacious biofilms on surfaces such as glass, plastic, and saliva-coated hydroxyapatite, a property that probably plays an important role in the ability of this bacterium to colonize the oral cavity and cause disease. We examined the morphology of A. actinomycetemcomitans biofilm colonies grown on glass slides and in polystyrene petri dishes by using light microscopy and scanning and transmission electron microscopy. We found that A. actinomycetemcomitans developed asymmetric, lobed biofilm colonies that displayed complex architectural features, including a layer of densely packed cells on the outside of the colony and nonaggregated cells and large, transparent cavities on the inside of the colony. Mature biofilm colonies released single cells or small clusters of cells into the medium. These released cells adhered to the surface of the culture vessel and formed new colonies, enabling the biofilm to spread. We isolated three transposon insertion mutants which produced biofilm colonies that lacked internal, nonaggregated cells and were unable to release cells into the medium. All three transposon insertions mapped to genes required for the synthesis of the 0 polysaccharide (O-PS) component of lipopolysaccharide. Plasmids carrying the complementary mild-type genes restored the ability of mutant strains to synthesize O-PS and release cells into the medium. Our findings suggest that A. actinomycetemcomitans biofilm growth and detachment are discrete processes and that biofilm cell detachment evidently involves the formation of nonaggregated cells inside the biofilm colony that are destined for release from the colony.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology