Staphylococcal small colony variants have novel mechanisms for antibiotic resistance

Clin Infect Dis. 1998 Aug:27 Suppl 1:S68-74. doi: 10.1086/514906.


Over the past 4 years, a variant subpopulation of Staphylococcus aureus has been characterized that is defective in electron transport. These organisms grow slowly and are typical of the previously described small colony variants (SCVs). Indeed, many earlier papers included data that are consistent with defective respiratory activity in SCVs. We present a hypothesis that serves as biochemical basis for the development of SCVs. These variants are particularly interesting because they have been associated with very persistent infections, and they are more resistant to many antibiotics than normal S. aureus. Because of their slow growth, atypical colonial morphology, and unusual biochemical profile, they are easily missed or misidentified in the clinical laboratory. This is of some significance, as this subpopulation is more resistant to antibiotics than the parent population from which they arose. When an infection is particularly resistant to therapy, persists for a long period, or fails to respond to apparently adequate antimicrobial therapy, clinicians and clinical laboratory personnel should consider special efforts to search for SCVs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biopolymers
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial*
  • Electron Transport
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Spores, Bacterial
  • Staphylococcal Infections / drug therapy
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / physiology


  • Biopolymers