Elucidating the genetic basis of crystalline biofilm formation in Proteus mirabilis

Nina Holling, D. Lednor, S. Tsang, A. Bissell, L. Campbell, Jonathan Nzakizwanayo, Cynthia Dedi, Joseph Hawthorne, Geoff Hanlon, Lesley Ogilvie, Jonathan Salvage, Bhavik Patel, Lara-Marie Barnes, Brian Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Proteus mirabilis forms extensive crystalline biofilms on urethral catheters that occlude urine flow and frequently complicate the management of long-term-catheterized patients. Here, using random transposon mutagenesis in conjunction with in vitro models of the catheterized urinary tract, we elucidate the mechanisms underpinning the formation of crystalline biofilms by P. mirabilis. Mutants identified as defective in blockage of urethral catheters had disruptions in genes involved in nitrogen metabolism and efflux systems but were unaffected in general growth, survival in bladder model systems, or the ability to elevate urinary pH. Imaging of biofilms directly on catheter surfaces, along with quantification of levels of encrustation and biomass, confirmed that the mutants were attenuated specifically in the ability to form crystalline biofilms compared with that of the wild type. However, the biofilm-deficient phenotype of these mutants was not due to deficiencies in attachment to catheter biomaterials, and defects in later stages of biofilm development were indicated. For one blocking-deficient mutant, the disrupted gene (encoding a putative multidrug efflux pump) was also found to be associated with susceptibility to fosfomycin, and loss of this system or general inhibition of efflux pumps increased sensitivity to this antibiotic. Furthermore, homologues of this system were found to be widely distributed among other common pathogens of the catheterized urinary tract. Overall, our findings provide fundamental new insight into crystalline biofilm formation by P. mirabilis, including the link between biofilm formation and antibiotic resistance in this organism, and indicate a potential role for efflux pump inhibitors in the treatment or prevention of P. mirabilis crystalline biofilms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1616-1626
Number of pages11
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2014


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