Effect of electrical energy on the efficacy of biofilm treatment using the bioelectric effect

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npj Biofilms and Microbiomes (2015) 1, 15016; doi:10.1038/npjbiofilms.2015.16


BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: The use of electric fields in combination with small doses of antibiotics for enhanced treatment of biofilms is termed the ‘bioelectric effect’ (BE). Different mechanisms of action for the AC and DC fields have been reported in the literature over the last two decades. In this work, we conduct the first study on the correlation between the electrical energy and the treatment efficacy of the bioelectric effect on Escherichia coli K-12 W3110 biofilms. METHODS: A thorough study was performed through the application of alternating (AC), direct (DC) and superimposed (SP) potentials of different amplitudes on mature E. coli biofilms. The electric fields were applied in combination with the antibiotic gentamicin (10 μg/ml) over a course of 24 h, after the biofilms had matured for 24 h. The biofilms were analysed using the crystal violet assay, the colony-forming unit method and fluorescence microscopy. RESULTS: Results show that there is no statistical difference in treatment efficacy between the DC-, AC- and SP-based BE treatment of equivalent energies (analysis of variance (ANOVA) P > 0.05) for voltages < 1 V. We also demonstrate that the efficacy of the BE treatment as measured by the crystal violet staining method and colony-forming unit assay is proportional to the electrical energy applied (ANOVA P < 0.05). We further verify that the treatment efficacy varies linearly with the energy of the BE treatment (r2 = 0.984). Our results thus suggest that the energy of the electrical signal is the primary factor in determining the efficacy of the BE treatment, at potentials less than the media electrolysis voltage. CONCLUSIONS: Our results demonstrate that the energy of the electrical signal, and not the type of electrical signal (AC or DC or SP), is the key to determine the efficacy of the BE treatment. We anticipate that this observation will pave the way for further understanding of the mechanism of action of the BE treatment method and may open new doors to the use of electric fields in the treatment of bacterial biofilms.


Funding for Open Access provided by the UMD Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.