Mycoplasma pneumoniae biofilms grown in vitro: traits associated with persistence and cytotoxicity

Microbiology (Reading). 2020 Jul;166(7):629-640. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.000928.


The atypical bacterial pathogen Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a leading etiological agent of community-acquired pneumonia in humans; infections are often recalcitrant, recurrent and resistant to antibiotic treatment. These characteristics suggest a mechanism that facilitates long-term colonization in hosts. In an in vitro setting, M. pneumoniae forms biofilms that are unusual in that motility plays no more than a very limited role in their formation and development. Given the unusual nature of M. pneumoniae biofilms, open questions remain concerning phenotypes associated with persistence, such as what properties might favour the bacteria while minimizing host damage. M. pneumoniae also produces several cytotoxic molecules including community-acquired respiratory distress syndrome (CARDS) toxin, H2S and H2O2, but how it deploys these agents during growth is unknown. Whereas several biochemical techniques for biofilm disruption were ineffective, sonication was required for disruption of M. pneumoniae biofilms to generate individual cells for comparative studies, suggesting unusual physical properties likely related to the atypical cell envelope. Nonetheless, like for other bacteria, biofilms were less susceptible to antibiotic inhibition and complement killing than dispersed cells, with resistance increasing as the biofilms matured. CARDS toxin levels and enzymatic activities associated with H2S and H2O2 production were highest during early biofilm formation and decreased over time, suggesting attenuation of virulence in connection with chronic infection. Collectively, these findings result in a model of how M. pneumoniae biofilms contribute to both the establishment and propagation of M. pneumoniae infections, and how both biofilm towers and individual cells participate in persistence and chronic disease.

Keywords: Mycoplasma pneumoniae; antibiotic resistance; biofilm; complement; cytotoxicity; persistence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Complement System Proteins / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Fungal
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Microbial Viability
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae / drug effects*
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae / physiology*
  • Pneumococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Sulfites / metabolism*
  • Virulence


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • CARDS toxin, Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Sulfites
  • Complement System Proteins
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • hydrogen sulfite