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Original Article
June 2003

Anatomical Evidence of Microbial Biofilms in Tonsillar Tissues: A Possible Mechanism to Explain Chronicity

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (Drs Chole and Faddis) and Molecular Pharmacology (Dr Chole), Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, Mo. The authors have no relevant financial interest in this article.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2003;129(6):634-636. doi:10.1001/archotol.129.6.634

Context  Bacteria within biofilms are resistant to host defenses and antibiotics. The presence of bacterial biofilms within the tissue and crypts of inflamed tonsils may explain the chronicity and recurrent characteristics of some forms of tonsillitis.

Objective  To determine if microbial biofilms occur within clinically abnormal tonsils.

Design  In this study, we evaluated the histomorphological appearance of 19 human tonsils for evidence of biofilm formation using light and transmission electron microscopy.

Subjects  Human tissues were collected during surgical tonsillectomy. Fifteen specimens were removed because of a history of repeated infections, and 4 were removed because of hypertrophy and obstruction.

Interventions  No interventions were used in this study.

Main Outcome Measure  Histological and ultrastructural evidence of bacterial biofilms within the crypts of tonsils.

Results  Gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria were seen within otherwise acellular deposits among crypts of 11 of 15 infected tonsils. Regions of accumulated bacteria possessed the ultrastructural appearance of typical amorphous polysaccharide biofilm matrix. Small clusters of bacterial colonies were seen in 3 of 4 tonsils removed because of hypertrophy.

Conclusions  There is strong anatomical evidence for the presence of bacterial biofilms in chronically diseased tonsils. Because sessile bacteria within biofilms are resistant to host defenses and antibiotics, bacterial biofilms within tonsils may explain the chronicity and recurrent nature of some forms of tonsillitis.