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Journal of Bacteriology


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a human genetic disorder which results in a lung environment that is highly conducive to chronic microbial infection. Over the past decade, deep-sequencing studies have demonstrated that the CF lung can harbor a highly diverse polymicrobial community. We expanded our existing in vitro model of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm formation on CF-derived airway cells to include this broader set of CF airway colonizers to investigate their contributions to CF lung disease, particularly as they relate to the antibiotic response of the population. Using this system, we identified an interspecies interaction between P. aeruginosa, a bacterium associated with declining lung function and worsening disease, and Streptococcus constellatus, a bacterium correlated with the onset of pulmonary exacerbations in CF patients. The growth rate and cytotoxicity of S. constellatus 7155 and P. aeruginosa PA14 were unchanged when grown together as mixed biofilms in the absence of antibiotics. However, the addition of tobramycin, the frontline maintenance therapy antibiotic for individuals with CF, to a mixed biofilm of S. constellatus 7155 and P. aeruginosa PA14 resulted in enhanced S. constellatus biofilm formation. Through a candidate genetic approach, we showed that P. aeruginosa rhamnolipids were reduced upon tobramycin exposure, allowing for S. constellatus 7155 biofilm enhancement, and monorhamnolipids were sufficient to reduce S. constellatus 7155 biofilm viability in the absence of tobramycin. While the findings presented here are specific to a biofilm of S. constellatus 7155 and P. aeruginosa PA14, they highlight the potential of polymicrobial interactions to impact antibiotic tolerance in unanticipated ways.