Secondary effects of antibiotics on microbial biofilms

Anahit Penesyan*, Ian T. Paulsen, Michael R. Gillings, Staffan Kjelleberg, Michael J. Manefield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Biofilms are assemblages of microorganisms attached to each other, or to a surface, and encased in a protective, self-produced matrix. Such associations are now recognized as the predominant microbial growth mode. The physiology of cells in biofilms differs from that of the planktonic cells on which most research has been conducted. Consequently, there are significant gaps in our knowledge of the biofilm lifestyle. Filling this gap is particularly important, given that biofilm cells may respond differently to antibiotics than do planktonic cells of the same species. Understanding the effects of antibiotics on biofilms is of paramount importance for clinical practice due to the increased levels of antibiotic resistance and resistance dissemination in biofilms. From a wider environmental perspective antibiotic exposure can alter the ecology of biofilms in nature, and hence disrupt ecosystems. Biofilm cells display increased resilience toward antibiotics. This resilience is often explained by mechanisms and traits such as decreased antibiotic penetration, metabolically inactive persister cells, and intrinsic resistance by members of the biofilm community. Together, these factors suggest that cells in biofilms are often exposed to subinhibitory concentrations of antimicrobial agents. Here we discuss how cells in biofilms are affected by the presence of antibiotics at subinhibitory concentrations, and the possible ramifications of such secondary effects for healthcare and the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2109
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • antibiotic resistance
  • antimicrobials
  • environmental pollution
  • infection
  • subinhibitory


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