Role of persister cells in chronic infections: clinical relevance and perspectives on anti-persister therapies

J Med Microbiol. 2011 Jun;60(Pt 6):699-709. doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.030932-0. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


Certain infectious diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria are typically chronic in nature. Potentially deadly examples include tuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis-associated lung infections, primarily caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and candidiasis, caused by the fungal pathogen Candida albicans. A hallmark of this type of illness is the recalcitrance to treatment with antibiotics, even in the face of laboratory tests showing the causative agents to be sensitive to drugs. Recent studies have attributed this treatment failure to the presence of a small, transiently multidrug-tolerant subpopulation of cells, so-called persister cells. Here, we review our current understanding of the role that persisters play in the treatment and outcome of chronic infections. In a second part, we offer a perspective on the development of anti-persister therapies based on genes and mechanisms that have been implicated in persistence over the last decade.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Candida albicans / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / pathogenicity
  • Candidiasis / drug therapy*
  • Candidiasis / microbiology*
  • Chronic Disease / drug therapy
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / drug effects
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / pathogenicity
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / drug therapy
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*
  • Tuberculosis / microbiology*


  • Anti-Infective Agents