The Open Challenge of in vitro Modeling Complex and Multi-Microbial Communities in Three-Dimensional Niches

Martina Oriano, Laura Zorzetto, Giuseppe Guagliano, Federico Bertoglio, Sebastião van Uden, Livia Visai, Paola Petrini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The comprehension of the underlying mechanisms of the interactions within microbial communities represents a major challenge to be faced to control their outcome. Joint efforts of in vitro, in vivo and ecological models are crucial to controlling human health, including chronic infections. In a broader perspective, considering that polymicrobial communities are ubiquitous in nature, the understanding of these mechanisms is the groundwork to control and modulate bacterial response to any environmental condition. The reduction of the complex nature of communities of microorganisms to a single bacterial strain could not suffice to recapitulate the in vivo situation observed in mammals. Furthermore, some bacteria can adapt to various physiological or arduous environments embedding themselves in three-dimensional matrices, secluding from the external environment. Considering the increasing awareness that dynamic complex and dynamic population of microorganisms (microbiota), inhabiting different apparatuses, regulate different health states and protect against pathogen infections in a fragile and dynamic equilibrium, we underline the need to produce models to mimic the three-dimensional niches in which bacteria, and microorganisms in general, self-organize within a microbial consortium, strive and compete. This review mainly focuses, as a case study, to lung pathology-related dysbiosis and life-threatening diseases such as cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis, where the co-presence of different bacteria and the altered 3D-environment, can be considered as worst-cases for chronic polymicrobial infections. We illustrate the state-of-art strategies used to study biofilms and bacterial niches in chronic infections, and multispecies ecological competition. Although far from the rendering of the 3D-environments and the polymicrobial nature of the infections, they represent the starting point to face their complexity. The increase of knowledge respect to the above aspects could positively affect the actual healthcare scenario. Indeed, infections are becoming a serious threat, due to the increasing bacterial resistance and the slow release of novel antibiotics on the market.

Original languageEnglish
Article number539319
JournalFront. Bioeng. Biotechnol.
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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