Electric current and magnetic field effects on bacterial biofilms

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


The ability of bacteria to form and grow as biofilm presents a major challenge in clinical medicine. Through this work, two alternative electromagnetic treatment strategies were investigated to combat bacterial biofilms like those that cause chronic infections on indwelling medical devices. Direct electric current (DC) was applied at current densities of 0.7 to 1.8 mA/cm 2 alone and in conjunction with antibiotic. Unlike most previous studies, chloride ions were included in the treatment solution at a physiologically-relevant concentration. Using this approach, low levels of DC alone were demonstrated to have a dose-responsive, biocidal effect against Staphylococcus epidermidis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms with no synergistic enhancement of antibiotic activity. Through a series of experiments using chemical measures, cell viability, and global gene expression, electrolytic generation of chlorine, a potent disinfectant, was identified as the predominant mechanism by which DC kills bacteria in biofilm. The second treatment strategy investigated weak, extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MFs) as a noninvasive approach, involving an extension of concepts from well-studied ELF-MF effects observed in eukaryotic systems to bacterial biofilm. S. epidermidis biofilms grown in weak, extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MFs) at Ca 2+ and K + ion resonance frequencies were assessed using global gene expression to determine if S. epidermidis in biofilm detect and respond to ELF-MFs. Frequency-dependent changes in gene expression were observed with upregulation of genes involved in transposase activity, signal transduction systems, and membrane transport processes indicating possible effects consistent with theories of ELF-MF induced changes in ion transport reported in eukaryotic cells. This is the first transcriptome study to indentify ELF-MF effects in bacteria. While no direct biocidal effect was observed with ELF-MF treatment, alteration of membrane transport processes could potentially modify biofilm susceptibility to certain antibiotics. The ELF-MF responses identified in this work provide a platform for future study.




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