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Summary

Strategies to induce biofilm dispersal are of interest due to their potential to prevent biofilm formation and biofilm-related infections. Nitric oxide (NO), an important messenger molecule in biological systems, was previously identified as a signal for dispersal in biofilms of the model organism Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In the present study, the use of NO as an anti-biofilm agent more broadly was assessed. Various NO donors, at concentrations estimated to generate NO levels in the picomolar and low nanomolar range, were tested on single-species biofilms of relevant microorganisms and on multi-species biofilms from water distribution and treatment systems. Nitric oxide-induced dispersal was observed in all biofilms assessed, and the average reduction of total biofilm surface was 63%. Moreover, biofilms exposed to low doses of NO were more susceptible to antimicrobial treatments than untreated biofilms. For example, the efficacy of conventional chlorine treatments at removing multi-species biofilms from water systems was increased by 20-fold in biofilms treated with NO compared with untreated biofilms. These data suggest that combined treatments with NO may allow for novel and improved strategies to control biofilms and have widespread applications in many environmental, industrial and clinical settings.