Persistent bacterial infections, antibiotic tolerance, and the oxidative stress response

Virulence. 2013 May 15;4(4):273-83. doi: 10.4161/viru.23987. Epub 2013 Apr 5.


Certain bacterial pathogens are able to evade the host immune system and persist within the human host. The consequences of persistent bacterial infections potentially include increased morbidity and mortality from the infection itself as well as an increased risk of dissemination of disease. Eradication of persistent infections is difficult, often requiring prolonged or repeated courses of antibiotics. During persistent infections, a population or subpopulation of bacteria exists that is refractory to traditional antibiotics, possibly in a non-replicating or metabolically altered state. This review highlights the clinical significance of persistent infections and discusses different in vitro models used to investigate the altered physiology of bacteria during persistent infections. We specifically focus on recent work establishing increased protection against oxidative stress as a key element of the altered physiologic state across different in vitro models and pathogens.

Keywords: antibiotic tolerance; biofilms; oxidative stress; persistent bacterial infections; persisters; small colony variants.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents