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High-content imaging (HCI) is a technique for screening multiple cells in high resolution to detect subtle morphological and phenotypic variation. The method has been commonly deployed on model eukaryotic cellular systems, often for screening new drugs and targets. HCI is not commonly utilized for studying bacterial populations but may be a powerful tool in understanding and combatting antimicrobial resistance. Consequently, we developed a high-throughput method for phenotyping bacteria under antimicrobial exposure at the scale of individual bacterial cells. Imaging conditions were optimized on an Opera Phenix confocal microscope (Perkin Elmer), and novel analysis pipelines were established for both Gram-negative bacilli and Gram-positive cocci. The potential of this approach was illustrated using isolates of Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, and Staphylococcus aureus HCI enabled the detection and assessment of subtle morphological characteristics, undetectable through conventional phenotypical methods, that could reproducibly distinguish between bacteria exposed to different classes of antimicrobials with distinct modes of action (MOAs). In addition, distinctive responses were observed between susceptible and resistant isolates. By phenotyping single bacterial cells, we observed intrapopulation differences, which may be critical in identifying persistence or emerging resistance during antimicrobial treatment. The work presented here outlines a comprehensive method for investigating morphological changes at scale in bacterial populations under specific perturbation.IMPORTANCE High-content imaging (HCI) is a microscopy technique that permits the screening of multiple cells simultaneously in high resolution to detect subtle morphological and phenotypic variation. The power of this methodology is that it can generate large data sets comprised of multiple parameters taken from individual cells subjected to a range of different conditions. We aimed to develop novel methods for using HCI to study bacterial cells exposed to a range of different antibiotic classes. Using an Opera Phenix confocal microscope (Perkin Elmer) and novel analysis pipelines, we created a method to study the morphological characteristics of Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, and Staphylococcus aureus when exposed to antibacterial drugs with differing modes of action. By imaging individual bacterial cells at high resolution and scale, we observed intrapopulation differences associated with different antibiotics. The outlined methods are highly relevant for how we begin to better understand and combat antimicrobial resistance.

Original publication

DOI

10.1128/msystems.00028-21

Type

Journal

mSystems

Publication Date

18/05/2021

Volume

6

Addresses

Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease, University of Cambridge Department of Medicine, Jeffrey Cheah Biomedical Centre, Cambridge, United Kingdom.