Persisters are a small fraction of quiescent bacterial cells that survive lethal antibiotics or stresses but can regrow under appropriate conditions. Persisters underlie persistent and latent infections and post-treatment relapse, posing significant challenges for the treatment of many bacterial infections. The current definition of persisters has drawbacks, and a Yin-Yang model is proposed to describe the heterogeneous nature of persistersthat have to be defined in highly specific conditions. Despite their discovery more than 70 years ago, the mechanisms of persisters are poorly understood. Recent studies have identified a number of genes and pathways that shed light on the mechanisms of persister formation or survival. These include toxin-antitoxin modules, stringent response, DNA repair or protection, phosphate metabolism, alternative energy production, efflux, anti-oxidative defense and macromolecule degradation. More sensitive single-cell techniques are required for a better understanding of persister mechanisms. Studies of bacterial persisters have parallels in other microbes (fungi, parasites, viruses) and cancer stem cells in terms of mechanisms and treatment approaches. New drugs and vaccines targeting persisters are critical for improved treatment of persistent infections and perhaps cancers. Novel treatment strategies for persisters and persistent infections are discussed.
Emerging Microbes & Infections
Emerg Microbes Infect. 2014 Jan;3(1):e3