Letters in applied microbiology

Biofilm formation by pathogenic Prototheca algae.

PMID 26394169


Prototheca microalgae are the only plants known to cause infections in humans and animals. The mechanisms of Prototheca infections are poorly understood, and no good treatments are available. Biofilms-surface-attached, three-dimensional microbial communities contributing to chronic infections-are formed by many pathogenic bacteria and fungi, but it is not known if Prototheca algae also have this ability. This study shows that various Prototheca species form biofilms composed of surface-attached cells in all growth phases, linked together by matrix containing DNA and polysaccharides. Biofilm formation was modulated by the presence of host plasma or milk. Compared to planktonic cells, Prototheca biofilms caused decreased release of IL-6 by mononuclear immune cells and responded differently to treatment with antimicrobials. Prototheca biofilms possibly contribute to chronic and hard-to-treat character of those algal infections. Prototheca algae are the only existing pathogenic plants. Almost nothing is known about mechanisms of Prototheca infections. This study identifies that, similar to pathogenic bacteria and fungi, Prototheca algae can form biofilms. These biofilms induce reduced immune cell activation relative to planktonic cells, and are also less susceptible to antimicrobials. Biofilm formation by Prototheca could be the first in vitro correlate of pathogenicity, opening a new research field for this pathogen.