Mechanisms of Disease
The Lancet, Volume 361, Issue 9352, Pages 130 - 135, 11 January 2003

Dr Mark Lyte PhD a b , Primrose PE Freestone PhD c, Christopher P Neal MB c, Barton A Olson BA a, Richard D Haigh PhD c, Roger Bayston FRCPath d, Peter H Williams PhD c


Bacterial colonisation of indwelling medical devices by coagulase-negative staphylococci is a prevalent risk in intensive-care units. Factors determining biofilm formation and progression to catheter-related infection are incompletely understood. We postulated that administration of inotropic agents via indwelling intravenous catheters may stimulate growth and formation of biofilms by Staphylococcus epidermidis.
Inocula representing physiologically relevant infecting doses of S epidermidis were incubated in a minimum medium supplemented with fresh human plasma in the presence or absence of pharmacological concentrations of norepinephrine or dobutamine. Biofilm formation on polystyrene and medical-grade silicone was examined. After incubation, cultures were assessed for growth and formation of biofilms by colony counting and scanning electronmicroscopy. The production of exopolysaccharide, a major constituent of S epidermidis biofilms, was also assessed by use of immunofluorescence microscopy.
Incubation of S epidermidis with catecholamine inotropes in the presence of human plasma resulted in a significant increase in growth compared with control on both polystyrene and silicone surfaces, with pronounced increases in biofilm formation as visualised by scanning electronmicroscopy. Experiments with transferrin labelled with radioactive iron showed the ability of catecholamine inotropes to facilitate acquisition of iron by S epidermidis. Immunofluorescence microscopy revealed extensive exopolysaccharide production associated with S epidermidis biofilms.
The ability of catecholamine inotropic drugs to stimulate bacterial proliferation and biofilm formation may be an aetiological factor in the development of intravascular catheter colonisation and catheter-related infection. The removal of iron from transferrin for subsequent use by S epidermidis is a possible mechanism by which catecholamine inotropes stimulate bacterial growth as biofilms.