Single-cell protein induction dynamics reveals a period of vulnerability to antibiotics in persister bacteria

Orit Gefen, Chana Gabay, Michael Mumcuoglu, Giora Engel, Nathalie Q. Balaban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Phenotypic variability in populations of cells has been linked to evolutionary robustness to stressful conditions. A remarkable example of the importance of cell-to-cell variability is found in bacterial persistence, where subpopulations of dormant bacteria, termed persisters, were shown to be responsible for the persistence of the population to antibiotic treatments. Here, we use microfluidic devices to monitor the induction of fluorescent proteins under synthetic promoters and characterize the dormant state of single persister bacteria. Surprisingly, we observe that protein production does take place in supposedly dormant bacteria, over a narrow time window after the exit from stationary phase. Only thereafter does protein production stop, suggesting that differentiation into persisters fully develops over this time window and not during starvation, as previously believed. In effect, we observe that exposure of bacteria to antibiotics during this time window significantly reduces persistence. Our results point to new strategies to fight persistent bacterial infections. The quantitative measurement of single-cell induction presented in this study should shed light on the processes leading to the dormancy of subpopulations in different systems, such as in subpopulations of viable but nonculturable bacteria, or those of quiescent cancer cells.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6145-6149
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - 22 Apr 2008


  • Antimicrobials
  • Microfluidics
  • Nongenetic individuality
  • Persistence
  • Synthetic gene induction


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