Piscirickettsia salmonis is the causative agent of piscirickettsiosis, a disease with high socio-economic impacts for Chilean salmonid aquaculture. The identification of major environmental reservoirs for P. salmonis has long been ignored. Most microbial life occurs in biofilms, with possible implications in disease outbreaks as pathogen seed banks. Herein, we report on an in vitro analysis of biofilm formation by P. salmonis Psal-103 (LF-89-like genotype) and Psal-104 (EM-90-like genotype), the aim of which was to gain new insights into the ecological role of biofilms using multiple approaches. The cytotoxic response of the salmon head kidney cell line to P. salmonis showed interisolate differences, depending on the source of the bacterial inoculum (biofilm or planktonic). Biofilm formation showed a variable-length lag-phase, which was associated with wider fluctuations in biofilm viability. Interisolate differences in the lag phase emerged regardless of the nutritional content of the medium, but both isolates formed mature biofilms from 288 h onwards. Psal-103 biofilms were sensitive to Atlantic salmon skin mucus during early formation, whereas Psal-104 biofilms were more tolerant. The ability of P. salmonis to form viable and mucus-tolerant biofilms on plastic surfaces in seawater represents a potentially important environmental risk for the persistence and dissemination of piscirickettsiosis.
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