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J Exp Med. 1975 Jul 1; 142(1): 1–16.
PMCID: PMC2189870

Phagosome-lysosome interactions in cultured macrophages infected with virulent tubercle bacilli. Reversal of the usual nonfusion pattern and observations on bacterial survival


Tubercle bacilli of the pathogenic human strain H37Rv had previously been shown to multiply, after ingestion by cultured mouse peritoneal macrophages, within phagosomes that tended to remain unfused with secondary lysosomes. Means were sought therefore for promoting experimentally a modification of the host response so as to attain a high level of phagolysosome formation, enabling tests to be made of any effects on the course and outcome of the intracellular infection. This was achieved by exposing viable bacilli to specific rabbit antiserum before their ingestion. Quantitative assessments, using electron microscopy, now showed that a majority of the phagosomes containing intact bacilli had fused with ferritin-labeled lysosomes, and frequently the fusion was massive. Bacterial viability studies established that the serum pretreatment was not itsel bactericidal. In the course of progressive infections with strain H37Rv, monitored by counts both of viable bacterial units and of intracellular acid-fast organisms, no appreciable difference was found between the intracellular growth rates of control and antiserum-treated bacilli. Concurrent electron microscopy showed that bacilli could remain intact and multiply both in phaagolysosomes and in unfused phagosomes, ruling out the possibility of selective growth of antiserum-pretreated bacilli within the minority of phagosomes that remained unfused. It was concluded that "turning on" phagosome-lysosome fusion in normal macrophages did not influence the outcome of infection with virulent M. tuberculosis; lysosome contents manifestly failed to exercise an antibacterial effect on this organism. Nevertheless, the possibility remains that the lysosomes of specific immune macrophages have antituberculous potentiality. In that case the experimental "turning on or off" of fusion could be a decisive factor in the outcome of a virulent challenge. Should it not be, the antibacterial capabilities of immune cells would need to be ascribed to factors other than lysosomal attack, the latter being essentially for disposal of the dead organisms.

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Selected References

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