Small colony variants: a pathogenic form of bacteria that facilitates persistent and recurrent infections

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2006 Apr;4(4):295-305. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro1384.


Small colony variants constitute a slow-growing subpopulation of bacteria with distinctive phenotypic and pathogenic traits. Phenotypically, small colony variants have a slow growth rate, atypical colony morphology and unusual biochemical characteristics, making them a challenge for clinical microbiologists to identify. Clinically, small colony variants are better able to persist in mammalian cells and are less susceptible to antibiotics than their wild-type counterparts, and can cause latent or recurrent infections on emergence from the protective environment of the host cell. This Review covers the phenotypic, genetic and clinical picture associated with small colony variants, with an emphasis on staphylococci, for which the greatest amount of information is available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminoglycosides / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Bacterial Infections / physiopathology*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Staphylococcus aureus / enzymology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics


  • Aminoglycosides