Journal of clinical microbiology

Characterization of clinical Enterococcus faecalis small-colony variants.

PMID 19605585


In this report, we present a clinical case of chronic aortic valve endocarditis caused by Enterococcus faecalis small-colony variants (SCVs), with ensuing characterization of the SCV phenotype in comparison to the clonally related normal phenotype with respect to alterations in microscopic and ultrastructural morphology, growth behavior, and metabolic pathways. In contrast to the normal phenotype, light and electron microscopy of the Enterococcus SCVs demonstrated the presence of heterogeneous cells of different sizes with aberrant shapes. Furthermore, SCVs showed excessive production of an intercellular substance and alterations in cell division displayed by a thick, coarse cell wall and incomplete, branched, and multiple cross walls without obvious cell separation. In addition, empty "ghost" cells were visible. In growth experiments, SCVs displayed an extended lag phase with delayed entrance into the stationary phase. Interestingly, SCV cells growing under aerobic conditions did not attain the growth and viability of the normal phenotype or those of SCVs growing under microaerobic conditions, suggesting impaired growth behavior and enhanced vulnerability in the presence of oxygen. By metabolite analysis, SCVs failed to produce significant amounts of acetate or lactate under aerobic growth conditions but were able to produce lactate under microaerobic growth conditions, implicating the induction of a fermentative metabolism. In conclusion, the observed structural alterations and changes in the cellular growth and metabolic pathways facilitated the survival of Enterococcus SCVs under microaerobic conditions in vitro and thus presumably in vivo during endocarditis.