Oral microbial biofilm models and their application to the testing of anticariogenic agents

Abstract

Objectives

This review paper evaluates the use of in vitro biofilm models for the testing of anticariogenic agents .

Data

Caries is a biofilm-mediated oral disease and in vitro biofilm models have been widely utilised to assess how anticariogenic or antimicrobial agents affect the de/remineralisation process of caries. The use of enamel or dentine substrata has enabled the assessment of the relationship between bacterial activity and caries lesion initiation and progression and how this relationship could be affected by the agent under study.

Sources

Only papers published in the English literature were reviewed.

Study selection

Both ‘open’ and ‘closed’ biofilm systems utilising either single or multiple-species as defined or undefined inocula are analysed.

Conclusions

There is a wide variety of in vitro biofilm models used in the assessment of anticariogenic agents. A reproducible model that mimics the shear forces present in the oral environment, and uses a defined multiple-species inocula on tooth substrates can provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of these agents.

Clinical relevance

Biofilm models are important tools for the testing of the mechanism of action and efficacy of novel anticariogenic agents. Results from these experiments help facilitate the design of randomised, controlled clinical trials for testing of efficacy of the agents to provide essential scientific evidence for their clinical use.

Introduction

Dental caries is a common oral disease affecting both adults and children. It is a multifactorial disease brought about by the interplay of host factors, plaque bacteria and diet. Extensive efforts in controlling caries through increased public awareness, home and public fluoridation measures have led to a decline in the prevalence of caries in developed countries. Despite the decline in caries prevalence, it is still the most common childhood chronic disease in the United States, five times more common than asthma . Furthermore, the majority of caries occur in a small segment of the public; generally from the lower socio-economic strata and education level or in those with disabilities . It is also becoming increasingly frequent in the elderly as more individuals retain their teeth. In recent years, reports have emerged that the decline in caries incidence seems to have arrested and reversed , motivating researchers to find new caries preventive strategies. The most widely used caries preventive agent is fluoride which mainly exerts its effect on the demineralisation-remineralisation balance occurring at the tooth-plaque interface. A greater understanding of plaque microbiota and its role in the caries disease has led to increased efforts in developing antimicrobial, antiplaque, prebiotic, probiotic, chemotherapeutic agents and other alternative strategies for caries control.

The current aetiology of caries is based on the Ecological Plaque Hypothesis, where the plaque ecological balance is considered to be the key factor in determining an individual’s caries susceptibility . Central to this is the role of dietary carbohydrates which are metabolised by plaque bacteria to produce acid end-products, resulting in a drop in environmental pH, which when prolonged below a critical pH, results in a net dissolution of minerals from the tooth structure. The relationship between plaque bacteria and tooth in disease is highly complex and does not follow the classic exogenous infection model. Koch’s criteria, where an individual pathogen is implicated in a specific disease, are inapplicable to the polymicrobial biofilm-mediated caries disease . The bacteria associated with the caries disease have often been described as ‘opportunistic pathogens’; however it has been suggested that since the bacteria implicated are resident bacteria, they should be described as pathobionts and not pathogens . Oral micro-organisms form structured metabolically organised biofilm communities of interacting species that are spatially heterogeneous due to the various physico-chemical gradients developed within the communities of distinct oral ecological niches . These biofilm communities change composition, structure and spatial distribution in dynamic response to environmental stress . The properties of biofilm communities are more complex and extensive than the sum of the individual organisms involved .

Martin Alexander first used the term ‘microbial homeostasis’ in 1971 to describe the ability of the oral microbial community in health to maintain stability and integrity in a variable environment, despite the periodic occurrence of fluctuating pH during carbohydrate metabolism . It implied that the composition of the biofilm was stable whereas in reality, the oral ecosystem experienced physiological changes which result in microbiological shifts . Recently, Zaura and ten Cate suggested that the term ‘allostasis’ better reflected the dynamism of these physiological changes occurring in the oral ecosystem, whereby allostasis was defined as ‘the process of achieving homeostasis or stability through physiological or behavioural change .

The oral microbiome is highly diverse, with distinct characteristics amongst the microbial communities residing at different oral surfaces due to variations in local environmental conditions . Recent culture-independent studies found more than 14 phyla in healthy subjects with a core oral microbiome shared amongst unrelated individuals, comprising of the predominant species found in healthy oral conditions . The predominant taxa belonged to Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Fusobacteria and Proteobacteria . Differences in biofilm composition exist in health and disease . In caries, the microbial composition shifts towards disease (dysbiosis) where bacterial diversity decreases as disease severity increases . Taxonomic characterisation however, is insufficient to assess the relationship between the microbiome and the disease state. Characterisation of the functional activities of the oral microbiome in vivo will give further insight into caries initiation and progression, facilitating the development of novel targeted anticariogenic agents .

Many culture-dependent studies had implicated Streptococcus mutans as the main bacterial aetiological agent in caries. However, the use of molecular and metagenomic methods revealed that S. mutans accounts for only 0.1% of plaque bacteria and 0.7–1.6% of bacteria in caries lesions . A recent metatranscriptomic study showed that S. mutans accounted for 0.73% of all bacterial cells in enamel caries lesions, 0.48% in open dentine caries lesions and 0.02% in hidden dentine caries lesions . Other species such as the low-pH non- S. mutans streptococci, Actinomyces spp., Atopobium spp., and those from the genera Veillonella, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Propionibacterium , have been associated with the caries process . A recent RNA-based study showed that caries lesions harboured a wide range of combinations of bacteria that varied greatly between individuals, between different lesion types and even between the same types of lesion . In conclusion, caries therefore, is a microbiological shift whereby the acidogenic and aciduric species of the polymicrobial biofilm increase at the expense of acid-sensitive species.

Biofilms have been described as “functional consortia of microbial cells with extracellular polymer matrices that are associated with surfaces” . The biofilm mode of growth affects their susceptibility to anti-bacterial agents, demonstrating as high as 1000 fold increase in anti-bacterial resistance compared to their free-living planktonic counterparts . Older biofilms showed greater antimicrobial resistance compared to their younger counterparts indicating that polymicrobial interactions amongst the biofilm community members and components of a mature biofilm can affect antimicrobial resistance . Minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC) assays, conventionally used to evaluate the efficacy of antibiotics and antimicrobial agents, are carried out with the test agent in contact with the micro-organism for a prolonged period of time at a fixed concentration in artificial test conditions . However, they do not replicate the clinical oral environment, where the chemotherapeutic agent is rapidly diluted by oral fluids and is retained at sub-MIC levels for a longer period. It is also not the intention to kill the plaque bacteria but to control or restore microbial homeostasis . Hence, conventional methods such as the MIC and MBC to evaluate the effect of therapeutic agents against oral biofilm diseases are inappropriate.

Caries preventive agents work in a variety of ways; by slowing the demineralisation process or enhancing the remineralisation process. They can also exert their effect on the plaque ecology by interfering with the environmental pressures that upset the microbiological homeostasis into dysbiosis to produce a cariogenic environment . For several decades, much of the caries preventive research was focused mainly on fluoride and chlorhexidine. With greater understanding on how plaque ecology influences the caries process, compounds containing essential oils , metal ions , plant extracts , phenols , quartenary ammonium compounds , enzymes , surfactants , xylitol , calcium-based remineralising agents , prebiotics , probiotics , nanohydroxyapatite , amelogenin-releasing hydrogels and antimicrobial peptides have been explored. The use of photodynamic therapy and a non-thermal atmospheric plasma technique as alternative antimicrobial strategies has also been explored. The preferred mode of action is not to kill the oral bacteria, but to maintain the beneficial bacteria at levels associated with health . Agents that exert a bacterial effect at sub-lethal levels and remain in the oral environment for a long period of time are thus preferred . Simón-Soro and Mira recently postulated that due to the polymicrobial nature of the disease, antimicrobial treatments to treat caries would be unsatisfactory and preventive strategies should instead be directed towards modulating the microbial interactions involved and their functional output .

Ideally, biofilms, their internal interaction and interactions with external factors should be studied in their natural environment. This is difficult to do in the oral environment where the anatomical structures and tooth relationships provide several distinct eco-niches for plaque bacteria to reside. This complexity in bacterial relationship with the oral structures has led to the development of biofilm model systems to aid in our understanding of the microbiology of the oral microbiome in health and disease. These models vary widely in purpose, design and microbiological complexity; allowing detailed analysis of the component parts under controlled experimental conditions . The importance of including biofilms in in vitro testing of novel caries preventive agents was highlighted by Zhang et al. who showed that the presence of a biofilm could influence the treatment outcome . Experimental model designs evolved with increased understanding of the oral microbiome ecology and pharmacokinetics of the active agent; and the change in the clinical pattern of the disease and oral hygiene care due to lifestyle factors . This present review provides a broad description of the various biofilm models commonly used in the study of caries preventive agents and how they have added to our understanding of the mechanism of action and efficacy of these agents.

Types of biofilm models commonly used in testing anticariogenic agents

A good in vitro biofilm model for testing caries preventive agents should have the following features: the biofilm under study should be representative of the natural diversity of the oral microbiome and characteristic of dental plaque; the growth medium representative of saliva and the pharmacokinetics of the agents to be tested should reflect that in the mouth . It should be able to study the effects of the agents on bacterial metabolism and/or enamel demineralization.

Many studies on antimicrobials do not include enamel substratum in the study design as the emphasis is on the microbiological aspects. Without tooth substrates, such models are unable to study the interactions of bacterial metabolites with enamel/dentine structure or assess the relationship of bacterial activity to caries lesion formation and progression. Several in vitro biofilm models have been developed that vary widely in complexity and utility. Mono-cultures have been used to determine the physiological activities of specific bacteria species. Multiple species from defined inocula are used to study the interactions between bacterial species. The use of saliva or plaque-derived cultures to reflect more closely the natural diversity of the oral biofilm led to problems with characterisation and reproducibility of replicate biofilm samples .

In general, in vitro biofilm models can be broadly categorised into ‘closed’ or ‘open’ systems depending on the nutrient availability ( Fig. 1 ).

Fig. 1
Conceptual differences between closed and open systems. (i) Closed system with batch culture: depletion of nutrients with time limits the duration of the experiment. (ii) Open system enables the simultaneous and continuous addition of nutrients and growth medium and removal of waste product. When the system reaches a steady state as observed in a constant depth film fermenter, the biomass remains constant (a). Biomass increases with time as observed in an artificial mouth system (b).

Closed system

Agar plate

This is the simplest biofilm model where bacterial growth on the agar plate resembles a biofilm consisting of bacterial cells embedded in an extracellular matrix. The agar provides a solid nutrient for direct bacterial growth. This technique was later refined to allow growth of the bacterial biofilm on 0.45 μm cellulose nitrate membrane filters placed on the surface of the agar plates. This model has been used to determine the susceptibility of oral bacteria to light-activated chemicals .

Multi-well cell culture plate

Biofilms grown in multi-well cell culture plates provide the potential for high-throughput analyses. They can be grown under batch culture in aerobic or anaerobic conditions; with and without mixing; either as monospecies, defined consortia or as plaque microcosms . The wells contain sterile growth medium and are inoculated with bacterial cells which adhere to the walls and bottom of the wells to form biofilms. Coupons placed in the wells can also act as biofilm substrata. Biofilm susceptibility to a test agent is carried out by adding varying concentrations of the test agent into the wells. Multi-well plates have been used to evaluate hydrolytic enzymes as possible plaque control agents and the inhibition of S. mutans biofilm by naturally occurring compounds, apigenin and tt-farnesol .

Guggenheim and co-workers described the use of a 24-well plate to generate a supragingival plaque model (Zurich Biofilm Model) using a multi-species biofilm comprising of Actinomyces naeslundii, Fusobacterium nucleatum, Streptococcus sobrinus, Streptococcus oralis and Veillonella dispar for the study of plaque physiology and testing of antimicrobials . However, a limitation of the Zurich biofilm model was that the biofilms were grown under anaerobic conditions with continuous carbohydrate exposure that were not reflective of in vivo conditions. A variation of the multi-well plate, the Calgary Biofilm Device, provided rapid testing of various antimicrobial agents for bacterial eradication . Removable pegs positioned on the upper lid of a 96-well plate were used as biofilm substrata and could be dismantled individually or collectively; with biofilm cell viability assessed using microscopic or plate counting techniques. One limitation of the Calgary Biofilm Model was the inability to vary the substratum material.

An improvement of this model, the Amsterdam Active Attachment (AAA) Model, was recently described whereby the upper lid of a 24-well plate was custom-fitted with clamps that could hold different types of substrata . The AAA model allowed for high-throughput testing of multiple compounds at different concentrations with different treatment times within the same experiment. Despite lacking the features of a continuous flow model where shear forces from fluid flow could be generated to mimic saliva flow and pulsing of nutrients/agents was possible, the model was able to generate reproducible plaque-like biofilms and simulate the plaque pH changes that occur in vivo after carbohydrate consumption as observed by the production of the Stephan’s curve generated by polymicrobial biofilms when exposed to sucrose . This relatively simple model seemed to produce results with a high predictive value on the efficacy of a test agent . However, the limitations of the multi-well cell culture plate model with the relatively small amount of biomass produced, its static environment of continuous exposure to sucrose and lack of metabolic clearance made it unsuitable for a multidisciplinary experimental design .

Open system

Open systems or flow displacement systems, allow for the simultaneous and continuous addition of growth medium and nutrients and waste product removal from the system . Examples of flow displacement systems include the chemostat, constant depth film fermenter, flow cells and the artificial mouth biofilm model . An open system model allows for bacteria to grow in a ‘steady state’ condition, whereby the rate of microbial growth is kept constant under constant experimental conditions , with bacterial density, substrates and metabolic product concentrations maintained at constant levels with respect to the period of observation . At this stage, biofilm cell accumulation plateaus as biofilm cell number doubling times reach their maximum . Generally, all nutrients are supplied in excess except for one growth-limiting nutrient. The concept of ‘steady state’ assumes a stable balance of the component microbial species in a multi-species culture . However, individual species have varying generation times and nutrient requirements, and reach a steady state at different times . One approach is to consider the multi-species culture as a single unit of activity in the analysis .

Biofilms grown in chemostats

A chemostat is a bioreactor where the influent (fresh medium) flow rate is equal to effluent (metabolic end products, microorganisms and left-over nutrients) flow rate, thus maintaining a constant culture volume . However, conventional chemostats, being planktonic systems, are not representative of biofilm communities. To simulate the oral environment, the chemostat model system was improved whereby suspended substrate coupons provided solid surfaces for biofilm formation, allowing for microbial colonisation with spatial heterogeneity. Many different types of substrates have been used with the chemostat system and these can be removed at different time points during the experiment for analysis or be transferred to another chemostat with a different environmental condition for further testing . The inclusion of a solid substrate for biofilm formation poses an issue as to whether the system operated under steady state conditions as biofilms grown on solid substrata can form increasing attached biomass . Increased demand for nutrients further upsets the steady state balance. In reality, microbial biofilms are complex bacterial communities with spatial heterogeneity and pH gradients across the depth of the biofilm. Access to nutrients is more limited for bacteria residing in the depths of the biofilm than those that are more superficially located. Hence, cell growth may not be constant throughout the biofilm structure.

Flow cells ( Fig. 2 )

The flow cell biofilm model consists of a liquid growth medium reservoir attached to single or multiple transparent chambers of fixed depth. Inoculation is carried out by passing a culture through the flow cell first to facilitate bacterial cell adherence before passing the growth medium through it. Both single-and multi-species biofilms can be produced; and different substrata can be tested within the same experiment. Flow cell orientation affects biofilm thickness; horizontally placed flow cells produce more plaque compared to vertically placed ones . It allows for non-destructive real-time microscopic examination of the biofilm as it can be mounted on a microscopic stage . However, its response to anticariogenic agents can only be determined using confocal laser scanning microscopy, whilst other means of assessments require disassembly of the apparatus. Real-time comparisons of multiple biofilms require multi-channel systems to construct the replicate biofilms for side-by-side comparisons.

Fig. 2
Flow cell system for the visualization and study of biofilm on substratum: custom built at the Oral Health Co-operative Research Centre, Melbourne Dental School, with three inlets and outlets to ensure laminar flow. It has a removable insert for placement of substratum, which can be removed after completion of the experiment.

Flow cells have been used to evaluate the effect of 0.03% triclosan mouthrinse on biofilm formation on hydroxyapatite and germanium compared to placebo controls . The triclosan group showed significant reduction in optical density of the bacterial plaque formed on hydroxyapatite surfaces and plaque protein content on germanium surfaces. Another study reported the inhibitory effect of tin (IV) fluoride compound on S. sanguinis adhesion on glass substrates, which was dependent on pre-treatment formation of the conditioning film . Using a defined mixed-species inoculum, Lynch and ten Cate (2006) reported the dose-response relationship of calcium glycerophosphate remineralising agent with regards to reducing tooth mineral loss and the importance of timing of delivery of the agent with respect to carbohydrate intake .

Constant depth film fermenter

To study the cause and effect relationship, time as a variable has to be removed as when a biofilm first develops, the community composition and proportion changes until it becomes stable (steady-state), following which the effect of any perturbation can then be easily quantified. A steady-state biofilm can be developed by allowing it to grow to a pre-determined depth after which the surface growth is continually removed to maintain a constant geometry; an approach first described by Atkinson and Fowler and developed by Coombe et al. using the constant depth film fermenter (CDFF) .

The CDFF ( Fig. 3 ) consists of a glass container with several ports for the entry of gas, inoculum and medium and access port for aseptic removal of samples at different time points during the experiment. Within the container sits a rotating turntable which holds 15 polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) sampling pans rotating under two PTFE scrapers at defined speeds. Each sampling pan has five circular wells containing PTFE pegs recessed at pre-determined depths to create space for biofilms to form. Different types of substrates can be used within the same experiment.

Fig. 3
Constant depth film fermenter modified for the culture of polymicrobial biofilms on enamel substratum (modified from Dashper et al., 2007 ). PTFE sampling pans are each modified to hold three enamel substrata recessed to specified depths. The supporting steel disc rotates at 3 rpm and the entire apparatus is placed in a 37 °C incubator. Compositional analysis of the biofilms cultured from the enamel substrata is performed after completion of experiment.

The CDFF offers several advantages over other models: a large number of replicate biofilms can be produced and the resultant environment is similar to that of the oral cavity as the growth medium flows over the substrata in thin films, mimicking saliva flow . The movement of scraper blades mimics tongue movement and chewing forces. Reproducibility is achieved as the biofilms are grown at a constant depth and the reproducibility within a run has been shown to be good . However, significant bacterial composition variations were observed between runs when mixed species biofilms derived from defined or saliva-derived inocula were used, affecting interpretation of results . This could be due to the heterogeneity of the inocula which became magnified by the growth conditions of the medium culture and the biofilm formative phases in the fermenter ; and the presence of unculturable species in saliva-derived inocula . Attempts to address this issue included the use of a split design where the CDFF was divided into two independent sides, each with its own scraper bar and delivery ports . Instead of rotating 360°, the turntable could only oscillate over 180° and was only able to hold fewer sampling pans, restricting the number of biofilm samples that could be produced. No cross-over contamination of bacteria or test agents between the two sides was observed. The advantage was that two treatment groups could be tested within the same experiment. Experimental variability could also be minimised by operating two CDFFs concurrently instead of in series, whereby both CDFFs were concurrently supplied by the same inoculation culture and artificial saliva growth medium using dual-channel pumps . Another problem that CDFF users faced was the possibility that the biofilms might not grow to fill up the recessed space. Though the bacteria in these biofilms could likely settle into a ‘steady state’ level, they were less reproducible compared to those that filled the recessed depths completely .

Artificial mouth

An artificial mouth is an attempt to simulate the oral microbial environment in vivo under defined controlled experimental conditions. A central characteristic of this model is the growth of plaque bacterial microorganisms as biofilms on surfaces irrigated with nutrient and saliva. The artificial mouth is thus a laboratory microcosm, replicating many physical aspects of the oral cavity . Many artificial mouth studies use saliva-derived inocula to produce plaque microcosms as this model has been shown to closely replicate the heterogeneity and variability of oral biofilms present in vivo . However, comparison of results derived from different saliva inocula is difficult as marked inter-individual variations in salivary species abundance can lead to differing microbial responses to a test agent . Such inter-individual variation can be minimised by the use of an inoculum derived by averaging or pooling the saliva from several individuals .

Types of biofilm models commonly used in testing anticariogenic agents

A good in vitro biofilm model for testing caries preventive agents should have the following features: the biofilm under study should be representative of the natural diversity of the oral microbiome and characteristic of dental plaque; the growth medium representative of saliva and the pharmacokinetics of the agents to be tested should reflect that in the mouth . It should be able to study the effects of the agents on bacterial metabolism and/or enamel demineralization.

Many studies on antimicrobials do not include enamel substratum in the study design as the emphasis is on the microbiological aspects. Without tooth substrates, such models are unable to study the interactions of bacterial metabolites with enamel/dentine structure or assess the relationship of bacterial activity to caries lesion formation and progression. Several in vitro biofilm models have been developed that vary widely in complexity and utility. Mono-cultures have been used to determine the physiological activities of specific bacteria species. Multiple species from defined inocula are used to study the interactions between bacterial species. The use of saliva or plaque-derived cultures to reflect more closely the natural diversity of the oral biofilm led to problems with characterisation and reproducibility of replicate biofilm samples .

In general, in vitro biofilm models can be broadly categorised into ‘closed’ or ‘open’ systems depending on the nutrient availability ( Fig. 1 ).

Fig. 1
Conceptual differences between closed and open systems. (i) Closed system with batch culture: depletion of nutrients with time limits the duration of the experiment. (ii) Open system enables the simultaneous and continuous addition of nutrients and growth medium and removal of waste product. When the system reaches a steady state as observed in a constant depth film fermenter, the biomass remains constant (a). Biomass increases with time as observed in an artificial mouth system (b).

Closed system

Agar plate

This is the simplest biofilm model where bacterial growth on the agar plate resembles a biofilm consisting of bacterial cells embedded in an extracellular matrix. The agar provides a solid nutrient for direct bacterial growth. This technique was later refined to allow growth of the bacterial biofilm on 0.45 μm cellulose nitrate membrane filters placed on the surface of the agar plates. This model has been used to determine the susceptibility of oral bacteria to light-activated chemicals .

Multi-well cell culture plate

Biofilms grown in multi-well cell culture plates provide the potential for high-throughput analyses. They can be grown under batch culture in aerobic or anaerobic conditions; with and without mixing; either as monospecies, defined consortia or as plaque microcosms . The wells contain sterile growth medium and are inoculated with bacterial cells which adhere to the walls and bottom of the wells to form biofilms. Coupons placed in the wells can also act as biofilm substrata. Biofilm susceptibility to a test agent is carried out by adding varying concentrations of the test agent into the wells. Multi-well plates have been used to evaluate hydrolytic enzymes as possible plaque control agents and the inhibition of S. mutans biofilm by naturally occurring compounds, apigenin and tt-farnesol .

Guggenheim and co-workers described the use of a 24-well plate to generate a supragingival plaque model (Zurich Biofilm Model) using a multi-species biofilm comprising of Actinomyces naeslundii, Fusobacterium nucleatum, Streptococcus sobrinus, Streptococcus oralis and Veillonella dispar for the study of plaque physiology and testing of antimicrobials . However, a limitation of the Zurich biofilm model was that the biofilms were grown under anaerobic conditions with continuous carbohydrate exposure that were not reflective of in vivo conditions. A variation of the multi-well plate, the Calgary Biofilm Device, provided rapid testing of various antimicrobial agents for bacterial eradication . Removable pegs positioned on the upper lid of a 96-well plate were used as biofilm substrata and could be dismantled individually or collectively; with biofilm cell viability assessed using microscopic or plate counting techniques. One limitation of the Calgary Biofilm Model was the inability to vary the substratum material.

An improvement of this model, the Amsterdam Active Attachment (AAA) Model, was recently described whereby the upper lid of a 24-well plate was custom-fitted with clamps that could hold different types of substrata . The AAA model allowed for high-throughput testing of multiple compounds at different concentrations with different treatment times within the same experiment. Despite lacking the features of a continuous flow model where shear forces from fluid flow could be generated to mimic saliva flow and pulsing of nutrients/agents was possible, the model was able to generate reproducible plaque-like biofilms and simulate the plaque pH changes that occur in vivo after carbohydrate consumption as observed by the production of the Stephan’s curve generated by polymicrobial biofilms when exposed to sucrose . This relatively simple model seemed to produce results with a high predictive value on the efficacy of a test agent . However, the limitations of the multi-well cell culture plate model with the relatively small amount of biomass produced, its static environment of continuous exposure to sucrose and lack of metabolic clearance made it unsuitable for a multidisciplinary experimental design .

Open system

Open systems or flow displacement systems, allow for the simultaneous and continuous addition of growth medium and nutrients and waste product removal from the system . Examples of flow displacement systems include the chemostat, constant depth film fermenter, flow cells and the artificial mouth biofilm model . An open system model allows for bacteria to grow in a ‘steady state’ condition, whereby the rate of microbial growth is kept constant under constant experimental conditions , with bacterial density, substrates and metabolic product concentrations maintained at constant levels with respect to the period of observation . At this stage, biofilm cell accumulation plateaus as biofilm cell number doubling times reach their maximum . Generally, all nutrients are supplied in excess except for one growth-limiting nutrient. The concept of ‘steady state’ assumes a stable balance of the component microbial species in a multi-species culture . However, individual species have varying generation times and nutrient requirements, and reach a steady state at different times . One approach is to consider the multi-species culture as a single unit of activity in the analysis .

Biofilms grown in chemostats

A chemostat is a bioreactor where the influent (fresh medium) flow rate is equal to effluent (metabolic end products, microorganisms and left-over nutrients) flow rate, thus maintaining a constant culture volume . However, conventional chemostats, being planktonic systems, are not representative of biofilm communities. To simulate the oral environment, the chemostat model system was improved whereby suspended substrate coupons provided solid surfaces for biofilm formation, allowing for microbial colonisation with spatial heterogeneity. Many different types of substrates have been used with the chemostat system and these can be removed at different time points during the experiment for analysis or be transferred to another chemostat with a different environmental condition for further testing . The inclusion of a solid substrate for biofilm formation poses an issue as to whether the system operated under steady state conditions as biofilms grown on solid substrata can form increasing attached biomass . Increased demand for nutrients further upsets the steady state balance. In reality, microbial biofilms are complex bacterial communities with spatial heterogeneity and pH gradients across the depth of the biofilm. Access to nutrients is more limited for bacteria residing in the depths of the biofilm than those that are more superficially located. Hence, cell growth may not be constant throughout the biofilm structure.

Flow cells ( Fig. 2 )

The flow cell biofilm model consists of a liquid growth medium reservoir attached to single or multiple transparent chambers of fixed depth. Inoculation is carried out by passing a culture through the flow cell first to facilitate bacterial cell adherence before passing the growth medium through it. Both single-and multi-species biofilms can be produced; and different substrata can be tested within the same experiment. Flow cell orientation affects biofilm thickness; horizontally placed flow cells produce more plaque compared to vertically placed ones . It allows for non-destructive real-time microscopic examination of the biofilm as it can be mounted on a microscopic stage . However, its response to anticariogenic agents can only be determined using confocal laser scanning microscopy, whilst other means of assessments require disassembly of the apparatus. Real-time comparisons of multiple biofilms require multi-channel systems to construct the replicate biofilms for side-by-side comparisons.

Fig. 2
Flow cell system for the visualization and study of biofilm on substratum: custom built at the Oral Health Co-operative Research Centre, Melbourne Dental School, with three inlets and outlets to ensure laminar flow. It has a removable insert for placement of substratum, which can be removed after completion of the experiment.

Flow cells have been used to evaluate the effect of 0.03% triclosan mouthrinse on biofilm formation on hydroxyapatite and germanium compared to placebo controls . The triclosan group showed significant reduction in optical density of the bacterial plaque formed on hydroxyapatite surfaces and plaque protein content on germanium surfaces. Another study reported the inhibitory effect of tin (IV) fluoride compound on S. sanguinis adhesion on glass substrates, which was dependent on pre-treatment formation of the conditioning film . Using a defined mixed-species inoculum, Lynch and ten Cate (2006) reported the dose-response relationship of calcium glycerophosphate remineralising agent with regards to reducing tooth mineral loss and the importance of timing of delivery of the agent with respect to carbohydrate intake .

Constant depth film fermenter

To study the cause and effect relationship, time as a variable has to be removed as when a biofilm first develops, the community composition and proportion changes until it becomes stable (steady-state), following which the effect of any perturbation can then be easily quantified. A steady-state biofilm can be developed by allowing it to grow to a pre-determined depth after which the surface growth is continually removed to maintain a constant geometry; an approach first described by Atkinson and Fowler and developed by Coombe et al. using the constant depth film fermenter (CDFF) .

The CDFF ( Fig. 3 ) consists of a glass container with several ports for the entry of gas, inoculum and medium and access port for aseptic removal of samples at different time points during the experiment. Within the container sits a rotating turntable which holds 15 polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) sampling pans rotating under two PTFE scrapers at defined speeds. Each sampling pan has five circular wells containing PTFE pegs recessed at pre-determined depths to create space for biofilms to form. Different types of substrates can be used within the same experiment.

Fig. 3
Constant depth film fermenter modified for the culture of polymicrobial biofilms on enamel substratum (modified from Dashper et al., 2007 ). PTFE sampling pans are each modified to hold three enamel substrata recessed to specified depths. The supporting steel disc rotates at 3 rpm and the entire apparatus is placed in a 37 °C incubator. Compositional analysis of the biofilms cultured from the enamel substrata is performed after completion of experiment.
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Jun 19, 2018 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Oral microbial biofilm models and their application to the testing of anticariogenic agents
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