Development of Bacteriophage Therapy for the Skin Disease Acne

Kathryn Neely, Brandon Albright, Margaret Zurowski, and Michael Davis, Department of Biomolecular Sciences, Central Connecticut State University

We are investigating the potential for bacteriophage therapy to treat the skin disease acne. Acne has varying symptoms and a multifactorial etiology, but the more serious lesions of acne vulgaris result from infection by the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes. Current acne treatments include broad spectrum antibiotics. Replacing or supplementing such compounds with an antibacterial agent targeted specifically against the pathogen can reduce or eliminate some deleterious effects of chemical antibiotics. However, the highly limited host range of most bacteriophage suggests that no single bacteriophage type will be capable of growing on all members of the bacterial species of interest. We have therefore collected from human skin a large number (several dozen) of bacteriophage isolates capable of lytic growth on P. acnes, along with a much larger collection (ca. 400) of P. acnes bacterial isolates for investigation of bacteriophage host range. Preliminary plating results indicate that the majority (greater than 95%) of bacteria in our collection are susceptible to one or more bacteriophage isolates. On the other hand, the predicted host specificity of the bacteriophage has been demonstrated by experiments that showed no interaction (attachment or infection) between the bacteriophage and other bacteria commonly found on human skin (e.g., Staphylococcus epidermidis). We have developed a UV mutagenesis protocol for the bacteriophage and are seeking variants with traits predicted to improve therapeutic efficacy. Based on plaque morphology, all of the bacteriophage in our collection are temperate, failing to grow lytically but forming latently infected bacterial lysogens at low frequency. We are seeking clear-plaque mutants which do not lysogenize infected bacteria as well as virulent bacteriophage mutants which plate lytically on bacterial lysogens. In summary, the application of bacteriophage therapy for acne shows initial promise in vitro. Bacteriophage with the necessary host range have been isolated, and work is underway to isolate variants with more useful properties

Presented June 2, 2008 at the 108th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Boston, Massachusetts