Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effect of colony morphology variation of Burkholderia pseudomallei on intracellular survival and resistance to antimicrobial environments in human macrophages in vitro

Sarunporn Tandhavanant123, Aunchalee Thanwisai12, Direk Limmathurotsakul24, Sunee Korbsrisate3, Nicholas PJ Day25, Sharon J Peacock126 and Narisara Chantratita12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

2 Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

3 Department of Immunology, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

4 Department of Tropical Hygiene, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

5 Center for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, UK

6 Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:303  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-303

Published: 30 November 2010



Primary diagnostic cultures from patients with melioidosis demonstrate variation in colony morphology of the causative organism, Burkholderia pseudomallei. Variable morphology is associated with changes in the expression of a range of putative virulence factors. This study investigated the effect of B. pseudomallei colony variation on survival in the human macrophage cell line U937 and under laboratory conditions simulating conditions within the macrophage milieu. Isogenic colony morphology types II and III were generated from 5 parental type I B. pseudomallei isolates using nutritional limitation. Survival of types II and III were compared with type I for all assays.


Morphotype was associated with survival in the presence of H2O2 and antimicrobial peptide LL-37, but not with susceptibility to acid, acidified sodium nitrite, or resistance to lysozyme, lactoferrin, human neutrophil peptide-1 or human beta defensin-2. Incubation under anaerobic conditions was a strong driver for switching of type III to an alternative morphotype. Differences were noted in the survival and replication of the three types following uptake by human macrophages, but marked strain-to strain-variability was observed. Uptake of type III alone was associated with colony morphology switching.


Morphotype is associated with phenotypes that alter the ability of B. pseudomallei to survive in adverse environmental conditions.