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Quantifying the Effects of Antimicrobials on In vitro Biofilm Architecture using COMSTAT Software

Amanda J. Morris1, Alvin Li1, Lindsay Jackson1, Yvonne C. W. Yau1,2, Valerie Waters1,3

Abstract

Biofilms are aggregates of microorganisms that rely on a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance for protection and structural integrity. The nosocomial pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, is known to adopt a biofilm mode of growth, causing chronic pulmonary infection in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). The computer program, COMSTAT, is a useful tool for quantifying antimicrobial-induced changes in P. aeruginosa biofilm architecture by extracting data from three-dimensional confocal images. However, standardized operation of the software is less commonly addressed, which is important for optimal reporting of biofilm behavior and cross-center comparison. Thus, the aim of this protocol is to provide a simple and reproducible framework for quantifying in vitro biofilm structures under varying antimicrobial conditions via COMSTAT. The technique is modeled using a CF P. aeruginosa isolate, grown in the form of biofilm replicates, and exposed to tobramycin and the anti-Psl monoclonal antibody, Psl0096. The step-by-step approach aims to reduce user ambiguity and minimize the chance of overlooking crucial image-processing steps. Specifically, the protocol emphasizes the elimination of subjective variations associated with the manual operation of COMSTAT, including image segmentation and the selection of appropriate quantitative analysis functions. Although this method requires users to spend additional time processing confocal images prior to running COMSTAT, it helps minimize misrepresented biofilm heterogenicity in automated outputs.

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