Neutrophil extracellular traps and bacterial biofilms in middle ear effusion of children with recurrent acute otitis media--a potential treatment target

PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e53837. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053837. Epub 2013 Feb 5.


Background: Bacteria persist within biofilms on the middle ear mucosa of children with recurrent and chronic otitis media however the mechanisms by which these develop remain to be elucidated. Biopsies can be difficult to obtain from children and their small size limits analysis.

Methods: In this study we aimed to investigate biofilm presence in middle ear effusion (MEE) from children with recurrent acute otitis media (rAOM) and to determine if these may represent infectious reservoirs similarly to those on the mucosa. We examined this through culture, viability staining and fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH) to determine bacterial species present. Most MEEs had live bacteria present using viability staining (32/36) and all effusions had bacteria present using the universal FISH probe (26/26). Of these, 70% contained 2 or more otopathogenic species. Extensive DNA stranding was also present. This DNA was largely host derived, representing neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) within which live bacteria in biofilm formations were present. When treated with the recombinant human deoxyribonuclease 1, Dornase alfa, these strands were observed to fragment.

Conclusions: Bacterial biofilms, composed of multiple live otopathogenic species can be demonstrated in the MEEs of children with rAOM and that these contain extensive DNA stranding from NETs. The NETs contribute to the viscosity of the effusion, potentially contributing to its failure to clear as well as biofilm development. Our data indicates that Dornase alfa can fragment these strands and may play a role in future chronic OM treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nasopharyngeal Diseases / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / metabolism*
  • Otitis Media / metabolism
  • Otitis Media / microbiology*
  • Otitis Media with Effusion / metabolism
  • Otitis Media with Effusion / microbiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

GlaxoSmithKline Australia, University of Western Australia Priming Grant, University of Western Australia near miss safety net grant and Telethon Trust Research Grant. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.