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J Bacteriol. Aug 1996; 178(15): 4484–4492.
PMCID: PMC178214

Stationary phase-associated protein expression in Mycobacterium tuberculosis: function of the mycobacterial alpha-crystallin homolog.


The majority of active tuberculosis cases arise as a result of reactivation of latent organisms which are quiescent within the host. The ability of mycobacteria to survive extended periods without active replication is a complex process whose details await elucidation. We used two-dimensional gel electrophoresis to examine both steady-state protein composition and time-dependent protein synthetic profiles in aging cultures of virulent Mycobacterium tuberculosis. At least seven proteins were maximally synthesized 1 to 2 weeks following the end of log-phase growth. One of these proteins accumulated to become a predominant stationary-phase protein. N-terminal amino acid sequencing and immunoreactivity identified this protein as the 16-kDa alpha-crystallin-like small heat shock protein. The gene for this protein was shown to be limited to the slowly growing M. tuberculosis complex of organisms as assessed by Southern blotting. Overexpression of this protein in wild-type M. tuberculosis resulted in a slower decline in viability following the end of log-phase growth. Accumulation of this protein was observed in log-phase cultures following a shift to oxygen-limiting conditions but not by other external stimuli. The protein was purified to homogeneity from overexpressing M. smegmatis in two steps and shown to have a significant ability to suppress the thermal denaturation of alcohol dehydrogenase. Collectively, these results suggest that the mycobacterial alpha-crystallin protein may play a role in enhancing long-term protein stability and therefore long-term survival of M. tuberculosis.

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Selected References

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