Extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) produced by bacteria form a matrix supporting the complex three-dimensional architecture of biofilms. This EPS matrix is primarily composed of polysaccharides, proteins and extracellular DNA. In addition to supporting the community structure, the EPS matrix protects bacterial biofilms from the environment. Specifically, it shields the bacterial cells inside the biofilm, by preventing antimicrobial agents from getting in contact with them, thereby reducing their killing effect. New strategies for disrupting the formation of the EPS matrix can therefore lead to a more efficient use of existing antimicrobials. Here we examined the mechanism of the known effect of vitamin C (sodium ascorbate) on enhancing the activity of various antibacterial agents. Our quantitative proteomics analysis shows that non-lethal concentrations of vitamin C inhibit bacterial quorum sensing and other regulatory mechanisms underpinning biofilm development. As a result, the EPS biosynthesis in reduced, and especially the polysaccharide component of the matrix is depleted. Once the EPS content is reduced beyond a critical point, bacterial cells get fully exposed to the medium. At this stage, the cells are more susceptible to killing, either by vitamin C-induced oxidative stress as reported here, or by other antimicrobials or treatments.
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