Bridging the gap between viable but non-culturable and antibiotic persistent bacteria

Trends Microbiol. 2015 Jan;23(1):7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2014.09.004. Epub 2014 Oct 16.


Microbial dormancy is a widespread phenomenon employed by bacteria to evade environmental threats including antibiotics. This intrinsic mechanism of antibiotic tolerance has drawn special attention to the role of dormancy in human disease, particularly in regards to recurrent infections. Two dormancy states, the viable but non-culturable state and bacterial persistence, both produce antibiotic-tolerant populations capable of withstanding prolonged lethal treatment. Currently described as two distinct forms of dormancy, they are rarely discussed in the same context. We argue here that these two dormant states are closely related phenomena which are part of a shared 'dormancy continuum'. This discussion is intended to stimulate discourse about these seemingly different but very similar dormant states.

Keywords: VBNC; antibiotic.; bacterial persistence; dormancy; toxin–antitoxin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial
  • Environment
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects*
  • Microbial Viability / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents