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Infect Immun. Sep 1982; 37(3): 1042–1049.
PMCID: PMC347645

Glyoxylate metabolism and adaptation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to survival under anaerobic conditions.


Tuberculosis is characterized by periods in which the disease may be quiescent or even clinically inapparent, but in which tubercle bacilli persist and retain the potential to reactivate the disease. The present study was carried out in pursuit of an in vitro model which might contribute to the understanding of the physiology of nonreplicating persisters, with oxygen limitation used as the means of inducing this state. When actively growing aerated cultures of Mycobacterium tuberculosis were suddenly placed under anaerobic conditions the bacilli died rapidly, with a half-life of 10 h. When the bacilli were grown in liquid medium without agitation, they adapted to the microaerophilic conditions encountered in the sediment; the adapted bacilli in the sediment did not replicate there but were tolerant of anaerobiosis, exhibiting a half-life of 116 h. Among the early events associated with the adaptation were the synthesis of an antigen designated URB, the function of which is not known, and a fourfold increase in isocitrate lyase activity. The bacilli later exhibited a 10-fold increase in synthesis of a glycine dehydrogenase that catalyzes the reductive amination of glyoxylate, concomitantly oxidizing NADH to NAD. Specific activities of other enzymes studied were either not affected or moderately diminished in the sedimented bacilli. It is proposed that the glyoxylate synthesis in this model serves mainly to provide a substrate for the regeneration of NAD that may be required for the orderly completion of the final cycle of bacillary replication before oxygen limitation stops growth completely. This orderly shutdown is essential to continued survival of M. tuberculosis in a quiescent form.

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