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Rapid Cytometric Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing Utilizing Adaptive Multidimensional Statistical Metrics

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Flow cytometry holds promise to accelerate antibiotic susceptibility determinations; however, without robust multidimensional statistical analysis, general discrimination criteria have remained elusive. In this study, a new statistical method, probability binning signature quadratic form (PB-sQF), was developed and applied to analyze flow cytometric data of bacterial responses to antibiotic exposure. Both sensitive lab strains (Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa) and a multidrug resistant, clinically isolated strain (E. coli) were incubated with the bacteria-targeted dye, maltohexaose-conjugated IR786, and each of many bactericidal or bacteriostatic antibiotics to identify changes induced around corresponding minimum inhibition concentrations (MIC). The antibiotic-induced damages were monitored by flow cytometry after 1-h incubation through forward scatter, side scatter, and fluorescence channels. The 3-dimensional differences between the flow cytometric data of the no-antibiotic treated bacteria and the antibiotic-treated bacteria were characterized by PB-sQF into a 1-dimensional linear distance. A 99% confidence level was established by statistical bootstrapping for each antibiotic-bacteria pair. For the susceptible E. coli strain, statistically significant increments from this 99% confidence level were observed from 1/16x MIC to 1x MIC for all the antibiotics. The same increments were recorded for P. aeruginosa, which has been reported to cause difficulty in flow-based viability tests. For the multidrug resistant E. coli, significant distances from control samples were observed only when an effective antibiotic treatment was utilized. Our results suggest that a rapid and robust antimicrobial susceptibility test (AST) can be constructed by statistically characterizing the differences between sample and control flow cytometric populations, even in a label-free scheme with scattered light alone. These distances vs paired controls coupled with rigorous statistical confidence limits offer a new path toward investigating initial biological responses, screening for drugs, and shortening time to result in antimicrobial sensitivity testing.

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