Patients in hospitals and healthcare facilities can develop infections as a result of contamination of indwelling medical devices such as catheters with bacteria that are normal inhabitants of the skin of the patient or health care personnel. The bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis is a major cause of such infections. This is in part because of its ability to form biofilms — surface-attached agglomerations of microorganisms that are extremely difficult to eradicate — on indwelling devices.
Michael Otto and colleagues, at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, have now identified the bacterial products that enable Staphylococcus epidermidis
biofilms to detach from the surface to which they are adhered and cause infection in a mouse model of catheterization. Importantly, molecules known as antibodies that target these bacterial products inhibited bacterial spread in the mouse model, leading the authors to suggest that interfering with biofilm detachment mechanisms might provide a new approach to preventing biofilm-associated infections.