BACKGROUND: Biofilms are characteristic of some chronic or recurrent infections and this mode of growth tends to reduce treatment efficacy. Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is associated with a high rate of recurrent symptomatic disease. The presence and behaviour of C. difficile within intestinal biofilms remains largely unexplored, but may factor in recurrent infection.
METHODS: A triple-stage chemostat gut model designed to facilitate the formation of intestinal biofilm was inoculated with a pooled human faecal emulsion. Bacterial populations were allowed to equilibrate before simulated CDI was induced by clindamycin (33.9 mg/L, four times daily, 7 days) and subsequently treated with vancomycin (125 mg/L, four times daily, 7 days). Indigenous gut microbiota, C. difficile total viable counts, spores, cytotoxin and antimicrobial activity in planktonic and biofilm communities were monitored during the 10 week experimental period.
RESULTS: Vancomycin successfully treated the initial episode of simulated CDI, but ∼18 days after therapy cessation, recurrent infection occurred. Germination, proliferation and toxin production were evident within planktonic communities in both initial and recurrent CDI. In contrast, sessile C. difficile remained in dormant spore form for the duration of the experiment. The effects of and recovery from clindamycin and vancomycin exposure for sessile populations was delayed compared with responses for planktonic bacteria.
CONCLUSIONS: Intestinal biofilms provide a potential reservoir for C. difficile spore persistence, possibly facilitating their dispersal into the gut lumen after therapeutic intervention, leading to recurrent infection. Therapeutic options for CDI could have increased efficacy if they are more effective against sessile C. difficile.