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Open Access Research article

Advancement of the 10-species subgingival Zurich Biofilm model by examining different nutritional conditions and defining the structure of the in vitro biofilms

Thomas W Ammann*, Rudolf Gmür and Thomas Thurnheer

Author affiliations

Section of Oral Microbiology and Immunology, Institute of Oral Biology, Center of Dental Medicine, Plattenstrasse 11, 8032, Zürich, Switzerland

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2012, 12:227  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-227

Published: 5 October 2012



Periodontitis is caused by a highly complex consortium of bacteria that establishes as biofilms in subgingival pockets. It is a disease that occurs worldwide and its consequences are a major health concern. Investigations in situ are not possible and the bacterial community varies greatly between patients and even within different loci. Due to the high complexity of the consortium and the availability of samples, a clear definition of the pathogenic bacteria and their mechanisms of pathogenicity are still not available. In the current study we addressed the need of a defined model system by advancing our previously described subgingival biofilm model towards a bacterial composition that reflects the one observed in diseased sites of patients and analysed the structure of these biofilms.


We further developed the growth media by systematic variation of key components resulting in improved stability and the firm establishment of spirochetes in the 10-species subgingival Zurich biofilm model. A high concentration of heat-inactivated human serum allowed the best proliferation of the used species. Therefore we further investigated these biofilms by analysing their structure by confocal laser scanning microscopy following fluorescence in situ hybridisation. The species showed mutual interactions as expected from other studies. The abundances of all organisms present in this model were determined by microscopic counting following species-specific identification by both fluorescence in situ hybridisation and immunofluorescence. The newly integrated treponemes were the most abundant organisms.


The use of 50% of heat-inactivated human serum used in the improved growth medium resulted in significantly thicker and more stable biofilms, and the quantitative representation of the used species represents the in vivo community of periodontitis patients much closer than in biofilms grown in the two media with less or no human serum. The appearance of T. denticola, P. gingivalis, and T. forsythia in the top layer of the biofilms, and the high abundance of T. denticola, reflects well the microbial situation observed at diseased sites. The improved model biofilms will allow further investigations of interactions between individual species and of the effects of atmospheric or nutritional changes, as well as interactions with tissue cells.

Periodontitis; Model; Biofilm; Subgingival; Structure; CLSM; FISH; IF