Staphylococcus aureus develops increased resistance to antibiotics by forming dynamic small colony variants during chronic osteomyelitis

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2016 Feb;71(2):438-48. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkv371. Epub 2015 Nov 20.


Objectives: Staphylococcus aureus osteomyelitis often develops to chronicity despite antimicrobial treatments that have been found to be susceptible in in vitro tests. The complex infection strategies of S. aureus, including host cell invasion and intracellular persistence via the formation of dynamic small colony variant (SCV) phenotypes, could be responsible for therapy-refractory infection courses.

Methods: To analyse the efficacy of antibiotics in the acute and chronic stage of bone infections, we established long-term in vitro and in vivo osteomyelitis models. Antibiotics that were tested include β-lactams, fluoroquinolones, vancomycin, linezolid, daptomycin, fosfomycin, gentamicin, rifampicin and clindamycin.

Results: Cell culture infection experiments revealed that all tested antibiotics reduced bacterial numbers within infected osteoblasts when treatment was started immediately, whereas some antibiotics lost their activity against intracellular persisting bacteria. Only rifampicin almost cleared infected osteoblasts in the acute and chronic stages. Furthermore, we detected that low concentrations of gentamicin, moxifloxacin and clindamycin enhanced the formation of SCVs, and these could promote chronic infections. Next, we treated a murine osteomyelitis model in the acute and chronic stages. Only rifampicin significantly reduced the bacterial load of bones in the acute phase, whereas cefuroxime and gentamicin were less effective and gentamicin strongly induced SCV formation. During chronicity none of the antimicrobial compounds tested showed a beneficial effect on bone deformation or reduced the numbers of persisting bacteria.

Conclusions: In all infection models rifampicin was most effective at reducing bacterial loads. In the chronic stage, particularly in the in vivo model, many tested compounds lost activity against persisting bacteria and some antibiotics even induced SCV formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteoblasts / microbiology
  • Osteomyelitis / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / growth & development*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents