OBJECTIVES: Streptococcus pneumoniae is one of the most common pathogens of otitis media (OM) that exists in biofilm, which enhances the resistance of bacteria against antibiotic killing and diagnosis, compared to the free-floating (planktonic) form. This study evaluated biofilm formation by S. pneumoniae on an abiotic surface and in the middle ear cavity in a rat model of OM. METHODS: In vitro biofilm formation was evaluated by inoculation of a 1:100 diluted S. pneumoniae cell suspension in a 96-well microplate. Adherent cells were quantified spectrophotometrically following staining with crystal violet by measurement of optical density at 570 nm. The ultrastructure of pneumococcal biofilm was assessed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). For in vitro biofilm study, S. pneumoniae cell suspensions containing 1x10(7) colony forming units were injected through transtympanic membrane into the middle ear cavity of Sprague Dawley rats. The ultrastructure of middle ear mucus was observed by SEM 1 and 2 weeks post-inoculation. RESULTS: The in vitro study revealed robust biofilm formation by S. pneumoniae after 12-18 hours of incubation in high glucose medium, independent of exogenously supplied competence stimulating peptide and medium replacement. Adherent cells formed three-dimensional structures approximately 20-30 microm thick. The in vivo study revealed that ciliated epithelium was relatively resistant to biofilm formation and that biofilm formation occurred mainly on non-ciliated epithelium of the middle ear cavity. One week after inoculation, biofilm formation was high in 50% of the treated rats and low in 25% of the rats. After 2 weeks, biofilm formation was high and low in 25% and 37.5% of rats, respectively. CONCLUSION: The results imply that glucose level is important for the S. pneumoniae biofilm formation and S. pneumoniae biofilm formation may play important role in the pathophysiology of OM.