A long journey from minimum inhibitory concentration testing to clinically predictive breakpoints: deterministic and probabilistic approaches in deriving breakpoints

Infection. 2009 Aug;37(4):296-305. doi: 10.1007/s15010-009-7108-9. Epub 2009 Jul 23.


Since the origin of an "'International Collaborative Study on Antibiotic Sensitivity Testing'" in 1971, considerable advancement has been made to standardize clinical susceptibility testing procedures of antimicrobial agents. However, a consensus on the methods to be used and interpretive criteria was not reached, so the results of susceptibility testing were discrepant. Recently, the European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing achieved a harmonization of existing methods for susceptibility testing and now co-ordinates the process for setting breakpoints. Previously, breakpoints were set by adjusting the mean pharmacokinetic parameters derived from healthy volunteers to the susceptibilities of a population of potential pathogens expressed as the mean minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) or MIC90%. Breakpoints derived by the deterministic approach tend to be too high, since this procedure does not take the variabilities of drug exposure and the susceptibility patterns into account. Therefore, first-step mutants or borderline susceptible bacteria may be considered as fully susceptible. As the drug exposure of such sub-populations is inadequate, resistance development will increase and eradication rates will decrease, resulting in clinical failure. The science of pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics integrates all possible drug exposures for standard dosage regimens and all MIC values likely to be found for the clinical isolates into the breakpoint definitions. Ideally, the data sets used originate from patients suffering from the disease to be treated. Probability density functions for both the pharmacokinetic and microbiological variables are determined, and a large number of MIC/drug exposure scenarios are calculated. Therefore, this method is defined as the probabilistic approach. The breakpoints thus derived are lower than the ones defined deterministically, as the entire range of probable drug exposures from low to high is modeled. Therefore, the amplification of drug-resistant sub-populations will be reduced. It has been a long journey since the first attempts in 1971 to define breakpoints. Clearly, this implies that none of the various approaches is right or wrong, and that the different approaches reflect different philosophies and mirror the tremendous progress made in the understanding of the pharmacodynamic properties of different classes of antimicrobials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests / methods*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests / standards*
  • Models, Statistical


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents