A growing body of evidence suggests that in addition to hypoxia, ischemia-reperfusion injury, and intrinsic host factors, bacterial biofilms represent a fourth major pillar in chronic wound pathogenesis. Given that most studies to date rely on in vitro or observational clinical data, our aim was to develop a novel, quantitative animal model enabling further investigation of the biofilm hypothesis in vivo. Dermal punch wounds were created in New Zealand rabbit ears, and used as uninfected controls, or inoculated with green fluorescent protein-labeled Staphylococcus aureus to form wounds with bacteria predominantly in the planktonic or biofilm phase. Epifluorescence and scanning electron microscopy revealed that S. aureus rapidly forms mature biofilm in wounds within 24 hours of inoculation, with persistence of biofilm viability over time seen through serial bacterial count measurement and laser scanning confocal imaging at different time points postwounding and inoculation. Inflammatory markers confirmed that the biofilm phenotype creates a characteristic, sustained, low-grade inflammatory response, and that over time biofilm impairs epithelial migration and granulation tissue in-growth, as shown histologically. We have established and validated a highly quantitative, reproducible in vivo biofilm model, while providing evidence that the biofilm phenotype specifically contributes to profound cutaneous wound healing impairment. Our model highlights the importance of bacterial biofilms in chronic wound pathogenesis, providing an in vivo platform for further inquiry into the basic biology of bacterial biofilm-host interaction and high-throughput testing of antibiofilm therapeutics.
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