Phenotypic variability of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in sputa from patients with acute infective exacerbation of cystic fibrosis and its impact on the validity of antimicrobial susceptibility testing

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2005 Jun;55(6):921-7. doi: 10.1093/jac/dki146. Epub 2005 May 9.


Objectives: To investigate the variability in antimicrobial susceptibility of Pseudomonas aeruginosa from sputa of patients with cystic fibrosis, to compare testing individual colonies of the same morphotype either separately or combined and to study the reproducibility of testing antimicrobial susceptibility within and between laboratories.

Methods: One hundred and one sputa were cultured. Four colonies of each P. aeruginosa morphotype were suspended. Susceptibility to 12 agents by disc diffusion was tested individually or by pooling the four suspensions. A sputum sample containing four morphotypes of one genotype of P. aeruginosa was used to study reproducibility. Susceptibility was tested in duplicate by eight biomedical scientists in one laboratory and by routine procedures in seven different laboratories.

Results: There was a mean of four morphotypes of P. aeruginosa per sputum and three antibiograms per morphotype. In some cases, all four colonies of a single morphotype had different antibiograms. The susceptibility profiles of single isolates of P. aeruginosa correlated poorly with pooled cultures, with the pooled tests missing resistance. Results from one sample tested in duplicate by eight biomedical scientists in one laboratory and in seven other laboratories did not correlate well. The wide range of zone sizes in disc diffusion tests illustrated the variation in susceptibility of 48 colonies from one sputum sample.

Conclusions: The role of conventional antimicrobial susceptibility testing is questionable once P. aeruginosa chronically infects the cystic fibrosis lung. A range of susceptibility patterns is seen, even within a morphotype. Routine test results are not reproducible and underestimate resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Phenotype
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sputum / microbiology*