Hyperbiofilm Formation by Bordetella pertussis Strains Correlates with Enhanced Virulence Traits

Infect Immun. 2017 Nov 17;85(12):e00373-17. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00373-17. Print 2017 Dec.


Pertussis, or whooping cough, caused by the obligate human pathogen Bordetella pertussis is undergoing a worldwide resurgence. The majority of studies of this pathogen are conducted with laboratory-adapted strains which may not be representative of the species as a whole. Biofilm formation by B. pertussis plays an important role in pathogenesis. We conducted a side-by-side comparison of the biofilm-forming abilities of the prototype laboratory strains and the currently circulating isolates from two countries with different vaccination programs. Compared to the reference strain, all strains examined herein formed biofilms at high levels. Biofilm structural analyses revealed country-specific differences, with strains from the United States forming more structured biofilms. Bacterial hyperaggregation and reciprocal expression of biofilm-promoting and -inhibitory factors were observed in clinical isolates. An association of increased biofilm formation with augmented epithelial cell adhesion and higher levels of bacterial colonization in the mouse nose and trachea was detected. To our knowledge, this work links for the first time increased biofilm formation in bacteria with a colonization advantage in an animal model. We propose that the enhanced biofilm-forming capacity of currently circulating strains contributes to their persistence, transmission, and continued circulation.

Keywords: Bordetella pertussis; biofilms; hyperbiofilm; virulence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Bordetella pertussis / isolation & purification
  • Bordetella pertussis / pathogenicity
  • Bordetella pertussis / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Nose / microbiology
  • Trachea / microbiology
  • Virulence
  • Whooping Cough / microbiology*