Mycobacterium abscessus biofilms produce an extracellular matrix and have a distinct mycolic acid profile

Anja Dokic, Eliza Peterson, Mario L Arrieta-Ortiz, Min Pan, Alessandro Di Maio, Nitin Baliga, Apoorva Bhatt

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A non-tuberculous mycobacterium, Mycobacterium abscessus is an emerging opportunistic pathogen associated with difficult to treat pulmonary infections, particularly in patients suffering from cystic fibrosis. It is capable of forming biofilms in vitro that result in an increase of already high levels of antibiotic resistance in this bacterium. Evidence that M. abscessus forms biofilm-like microcolonies in patient lungs and on medical devices further implicated the need to investigate this biofilm in detail. Therefore, in this study we characterized the M. abscessus pellicular biofilm, formed on a liquid-air interface, by studying its molecular composition, and its transcriptional profile in comparison to planktonic cells. Using scanning electron micrographs and fluorescence microscopy, we showed that M. abscessus biofilms produce an extracellular matrix composed of lipids, proteins, carbohydrates and extracellular DNA. Transcriptomic analysis of biofilms revealed an upregulation of pathways involved in the glyoxylate shunt, redox metabolism and mycolic acid biosynthesis. Genes involved in elongation and desaturation of mycolic acids were highly upregulated in biofilms and, mirroring those findings, biochemical analysis of mycolates revealed molecular changes and an increase in mycolic acid chain length. Together these results give us an insight into the complex structure of M. abscessus biofilms, the understanding of which may be adapted for clinical use in treatment of biofilm infections, including strategies for dispersing the extracellular matrix, allowing antibiotics to gain access to bacteria within the biofilm.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100051
JournalThe Cell Surface
Early online date6 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Author(s).


  • Biofilm
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Lipids
  • Mycobacterium abscessus
  • Mycolic acid
  • Transcription


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