Short chain fatty acids produced by Cutibacterium acnes inhibit biofilm formation by Staphylococcus epidermidis

Sci Rep. 2020 Dec 4;10(1):21237. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-77790-9.


Biofilm formation by bacterial pathogens is associated with numerous human diseases and can confer resistance to both antibiotics and host defenses. Many strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis are capable of forming biofilms and are important human pathogens. Since S. epidermidis coexists with abundant Cutibacteria acnes on healthy human skin and does not typically form a biofilm in this environment, we hypothesized that C. acnes may influence biofilm formation of S. epidermidis. Culture supernatants from C. acnes and other species of Cutibacteria inhibited S. epidermidis but did not inhibit biofilms by Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Bacillus subtilis, and inhibited biofilms by S. aureus to a lesser extent. Biofilm inhibitory activity exhibited chemical properties of short chain fatty acids known to be produced from C. acnes. The addition of the pure short chain fatty acids propionic, isobutyric or isovaleric acid to S. epidermidis inhibited biofilm formation and, similarly to C. acnes supernatant, reduced polysaccharide synthesis by S. epidermidis. Both short chain fatty acids and C. acnes culture supernatant also increased sensitivity of S. epidermidis to antibiotic killing under biofilm-forming conditions. These observations suggest the presence of C. acnes in a diverse microbial community with S. epidermidis can be beneficial to the host and demonstrates that short chain fatty acids may be useful to limit formation of a biofilm by S. epidermidis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / drug effects
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology
  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / analysis
  • Culture Media, Conditioned / pharmacology
  • Drug Synergism
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Hemiterpenes / pharmacology
  • Isobutyrates / pharmacology
  • Pentanoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Polysaccharides / biosynthesis
  • Propionates / pharmacology
  • Propionibacteriaceae / metabolism*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / physiology
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / drug effects*
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / genetics
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / metabolism
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Isobutyrates
  • Pentanoic Acids
  • Polysaccharides
  • Propionates
  • isovaleric acid
  • isobutyric acid
  • propionic acid

Supplementary concepts

  • Cutibacterium acnes subsp. acnes