Substrata mechanical stiffness can regulate adhesion of viable bacteria

Biomacromolecules. 2008 Jun;9(6):1571-8. doi: 10.1021/bm701430y. Epub 2008 May 2.


The competing mechanisms that regulate adhesion of bacteria to surfaces and subsequent biofilm formation remain unclear, though nearly all studies have focused on the role of physical and chemical properties of the material surface. Given the large monetary and health costs of medical-device colonization and hospital-acquired infections due to bacteria, there is considerable interest in better understanding of material properties that can limit bacterial adhesion and viability. Here we employ weak polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM) thin films comprised of poly(allylamine) hydrochloride (PAH) and poly(acrylic acid) (PAA), assembled over a range of conditions, to explore the physicochemical and mechanical characteristics of material surfaces controlling adhesion of Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria and subsequent colony growth. Although it is increasingly appreciated that eukaryotic cells possess subcellular structures and biomolecular pathways to sense and respond to local chemomechanical environments, much less is known about mechanoselective adhesion of prokaryotes such as these bacteria. We find that adhesion of viable S. epidermidis correlates positively with the stiffness of these polymeric substrata, independently of the roughness, interaction energy, and charge density of these materials. Quantitatively similar trends observed for wild-type and actin analogue mutant Escherichia coli suggest that these results are not confined to only specific bacterial strains, shapes, or cell envelope types. These results indicate the plausibility of mechanoselective adhesion mechanisms in prokaryotes and suggest that mechanical stiffness of substrata materials represents an additional parameter that can regulate adhesion of and subsequent colonization by viable bacteria.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acrylic Resins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Adhesion*
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Cations, Monovalent / chemistry
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Elasticity
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Materials Testing
  • Polyamines / chemistry*
  • Polyelectrolytes
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / growth & development
  • Surface Properties
  • Titanium / chemistry


  • Acrylic Resins
  • Cations, Monovalent
  • Polyamines
  • Polyelectrolytes
  • Polymers
  • polyanions
  • polycations
  • polyallylamine
  • carbopol 940
  • Titanium