Elucidating the genetic basis of crystalline biofilm formation in Proteus mirabilis

N Holling, D Lednor, S Tsang, A Bissell, L Campbell, Jonathan Nzakizwanayo, C Dedi, J A Hawthorne, G Hanlon, L A Ogilvie, J P Salvage, B A Patel, L M Barnes, B V Jones

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47 Citations (SciVal)


Proteus mirabilis forms extensive crystalline biofilms on urethral catheters that occlude urine flow and frequently complicate the management of long-term-catheterized patients. Here, using random transposon mutagenesis in conjunction with in vitro models of the catheterized urinary tract, we elucidate the mechanisms underpinning the formation of crystalline biofilms by P. mirabilis. Mutants identified as defective in blockage of urethral catheters had disruptions in genes involved in nitrogen metabolism and efflux systems but were unaffected in general growth, survival in bladder model systems, or the ability to elevate urinary pH. Imaging of biofilms directly on catheter surfaces, along with quantification of levels of encrustation and biomass, confirmed that the mutants were attenuated specifically in the ability to form crystalline biofilms compared with that of the wild type. However, the biofilm-deficient phenotype of these mutants was not due to deficiencies in attachment to catheter biomaterials, and defects in later stages of biofilm development were indicated. For one blocking-deficient mutant, the disrupted gene (encoding a putative multidrug efflux pump) was also found to be associated with susceptibility to fosfomycin, and loss of this system or general inhibition of efflux pumps increased sensitivity to this antibiotic. Furthermore, homologues of this system were found to be widely distributed among other common pathogens of the catheterized urinary tract. Overall, our findings provide fundamental new insight into crystalline biofilm formation by P. mirabilis, including the link between biofilm formation and antibiotic resistance in this organism, and indicate a potential role for efflux pump inhibitors in the treatment or prevention of P. mirabilis crystalline biofilms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1616-26
Number of pages11
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number4
Early online date27 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2014


  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/pharmacology
  • Biofilms/growth & development
  • Calcium/analysis
  • Catheters, Indwelling/microbiology
  • Cell Movement
  • DNA Transposable Elements/physiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Microscopy, Electrochemical, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis
  • Proteus mirabilis/drug effects
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Urease/metabolism
  • Urinary Catheterization/instrumentation


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