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The Effects of β-Lactam Antibiotics on Surface Modifications of Multidrug-Resistant Escherichia coli: A Multiscale Approach

  • Samuel C. Uzoechi (a1) and Nehal I. Abu-Lail (a2)


Possible multidrug-resistant (MDR) mechanisms of four resistant strains of Escherichia coli to a model β-lactam, ampicillin, were investigated using contact angle measurements of wettability, crystal violet assays of permeability, biofilm formation, fluorescence imaging, and nanoscale analyses of dimensions, adherence, and roughness. Upon exposure to ampicillin, one of the resistant strains, E. coli A5, changed its phenotype from elliptical to spherical, maintained its roughness and biofilm formation abilities, decreased its length and surface area, maintained its cell wall integrity, increased its hydrophobicity, and decreased its nanoscale adhesion to a model surface of silicon nitride. Such modifications are suggested to allow these cells to conserve energy during metabolic dormancy. In comparison, resistant strains E. coli D4, A9, and H5 elongated their cells, increased their roughness, increased their nanoscale adhesion forces, became more hydrophilic, and increased their biofilm formation upon exposure to ampicillin. These results suggest that these strains resisted ampicillin through biofilm formation that possibly introduces diffusion limitations to antibiotics. Investigations of how MDR bacterial cells modify their surfaces in response to antibiotics can guide research efforts aimed at designing more effective antibiotics and new treatment strategies for MDR bacterial infections.


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*Author for correspondence: Nehal I. Abu-Lail, E-mail:


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