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Does Suture Type Influence Bacterial Retention and Biofilm Formation After Irrigation in a Mouse Model?

Markel, David C. MD; Bergum, Christopher MS; Wu, Bin MD; Bou-Akl, Therese PhD; Ren, Weiping PhD

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®: January 2019 - Volume 477 - Issue 1 - p 116–126
doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000000391

Background Irrigation and débridement are frequently utilized in the management of surgical infections, but even with aggressive débridement, it is difficult to remove all the suture material from the tissues and retained suture material may harbor bacteria and/or biofilm. The degree to which barbed or braided sutures may differentially influence the risk of infection has not been defined in a well-controlled animal model.

Questions/purposes We compared braided and barbed monofilament sutures after irrigation of an infected mouse air pouch model to determine whether the suture type influenced the effectiveness of the irrigation. After irrigation of infected pouches, sutures were compared for (1) bacterial adherence and bacterial retention; (2) qualitative and quantitative pouch thickness and cellular density; and (3) quantitative biofilm formation.

Methods Soft tissue air pouches were created on the backs of 60 female, mature 10-week-old BALB/cJ mice by sequentially introducing air into the subcutaneous tissue and allowing the pouch to mature. The pouches were inoculated with Staphylococcus aureus and braided or barbed monofilament sutures were implanted. Pouch irrigation was performed Day 7 after suture implantation. Suture segments were collected before and after irrigation. After euthanasia on Day 14, pouch tissues with residual suture segments were collected for analysis: microbiologic analysis done using optical density as a measure of the concentration of bacteria in the culture (the larger concentration indicates higher number of bacteria) and histologic evaluation of the pouch tissues were semiquantitative, whereas environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) and confocal analyses of the biofilm and bacteria on the sutures were qualitative.

Results Histologic evaluation of pouch tissue showed all groups had inflammatory responses. Quantitatively microbiology showed no difference in bacterial number calculated from the optical density (OD) values between the two suture materials at any time point in the irrigation group. In the no-irrigation group, for the Day 7 time point, mean (± SD) OD was greater in the barbed than the OD in the braided sutures (0.52 ± 0.12 versus 0.37 ± 0.16, mean difference 0.43 [95% confidence interval, 0.08-0.13]; p = 0.007). Qualitatively, ESEM showed more bacterial retention by braided sutures before and after irrigation. Confocal imaging of the sutures demonstrated penetration of biofilm into the interstices of braided sutures and less adhesion in barbed monofilament sutures. The quantification of the biomass showed no differences between groups at all time points (before-irrigation biomass was 11.2 ± 9.3 for braided versus 5.2 ± 4.7 for barbed sutures, p = 0.196; and after-irrigation biomass was 7.2 ± 7.5 for braided versus 3.3 ± 4.3 for barbed suture, p = 0.259).

Conclusions All sutures can retain bacteria and biofilm, but it is rarely possible to remove all suture material at the time of irrigation to treat infection. After an irrigation procedure, qualitatively braided sutures appeared to harbor more bacteria and to retain more biofilm than barbed monofilaments.

Clinical Relevance When saline irrigation was used to simulate infection treatment in an infected mouse air pouch model, bacteria/biofilm was not completely eliminated from either braided or barbed monofilament sutures. The irrigation appeared to clear more bacteria and biofilm from the monofilament despite having barbs. Unfortunately, current technologies do not allow direct quantitative comparisons of biofilm retention. Clinicians should be aware that in the face of infection, any retained sutures may harbor bacteria despite irrigation.

D. C. Markel, C. Bergum, B. Wu, T. Bou-Akl, Department of Orthopedics, Providence Park Hospital, Southfield, MI, USA

W. Ren, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA

D. C. Markel, Department of Orthopedics, Providence Park Hospital, 22250 Providence Drive, Southfield, MI 48075, USA, email:

Each author certifies that neither he or she, nor any member of his or her immediate family, has funding or commercial associations (consultancies, stock ownership, equity interest, patent/licensing arrangements, etc) that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with the submitted article.

All ICMJE Conflict of Interest Forms for authors and Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research® editors and board members are on file with the publication and can be viewed on request.

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research® neither advocates nor endorses the use of any treatment, drug, or device. Readers are encouraged to always seek additional information, including FDA approval status, of any drug or device before clinical use.

Each author certifies that his or her institution approved the animal protocol for this investigation and that all investigations were conducted in conformity with ethical principles of research.

This work was performed at Providence Hospital, Southfield, MI, USA.

Received January 15, 2018

Received in revised form May 08, 2018

Accepted June 06, 2018

© 2019 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins LWW
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