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Original article
Rhinovirus infection liberates planktonic bacteria from biofilm and increases chemokine responses in cystic fibrosis airway epithelial cells
  1. Sangbrita S Chattoraj1,
  2. Shyamala Ganesan1,
  3. Andrew M Jones2,
  4. Jennifer M Helm2,
  5. Adam T Comstock1,
  6. Rowland Bright-Thomas2,
  7. John J LiPuma1,
  8. Marc B Hershenson1,3,
  9. Umadevi S Sajjan1
  1. 1Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  2. 2Manchester Adult Cystic Fibrosis Center, University Hospitals South Manchester NHS Trust Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, UK
  3. 3Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  1. Correspondence to Umadevi S Sajjan, University of Michigan, 1150 W Medical Center Dr, Room 3570, MSRBII, Box 5688, Ann Arbor, MI USA; usajjan{at}


Background Intermittent viral exacerbations in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) with chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) infection are associated with increased bacterial load. A few clinical studies suggest that rhinoviruses (RV) are associated with the majority of viral-related exacerbations in CF and require prolonged intravenous antibiotic treatment. These observations imply that acute RV infection may increase lower respiratory symptoms by increasing planktonic bacterial load. However, the underlying mechanisms are not known.

Methods Primary CF airway epithelial cells differentiated into mucociliary phenotype were infected with mucoid PA (MPA) followed by RV and examined for bacterial density, biofilm mass, levels of chemokines and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The need for dual oxidase 2, a component of NADPH oxidase, in RV-induced generation of H2O2 in CF cells was assessed using gene-specific siRNA.

Results Superinfection with RV increased chemokine responses in CF mucociliary-differentiated airway epithelial cells with pre-existing MPA infection in the form of biofilm. This was associated with the presence of planktonic bacteria at both the apical and basolateral epithelial cell surfaces. Further, RV-induced generation of H2O2 via dual oxidase 2 in CF cells was sufficient for dispersal of planktonic bacteria from the biofilm. Inhibition of NADPH oxidase reduced bacterial transmigration across mucociliary-differentiated CF cells and the interleukin-8 response in MPA- and RV-infected cells.

Conclusion This study shows that acute infection with RV liberates planktonic bacteria from biofilm. Planktonic bacteria, which are more proinflammatory than their biofilm counterparts, stimulate increased chemokine responses in CF airway epithelial cells which, in turn, may contribute to the pathogenesis of CF exacerbations.

  • Co-infection
  • exacerbation
  • oxidative stress
  • biofilm
  • airway epithelium
  • bacterial infection
  • cystic fibrosis
  • respiratory infection
  • viral infection

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  • Funding This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants HL0897720 (USS), HL082550 and HL081420 (MBH) and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (USS).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Use of CF bronchial segments was reviewed by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board (IRB number HUM00000230).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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