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Infect Immun. 2011 Jun;79(6):2412-22. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01120-10. Epub 2011 Mar 28.

Mimicry of the pathogenic mycobacterium vacuole in vitro elicits the bacterial intracellular phenotype, including early-onset macrophage death.

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  • 1Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA.


Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) within macrophages undergoes a phenotype change that allows for more efficient entry into surrounding host cells. We hypothesized that, by developing an in vitro system resembling the intravacuolar environment, one could generate insights into the mycobacterial intracellular phenotype. MAC was incubated in "elemental mixtures" that reproduce metal concentrations and pH in the vacuoles at different time points and then used to infect fresh macrophages. Incubation of MAC with the mixture corresponding to the vacuole environment 24 h postinfection infected macrophages at a significantly higher rate than bacteria that were incubated in Middlebrook 7H9 broth. Uptake occurred by macropinocytosis, similar to the uptake of bacteria passed through macrophages. Genes reported to be upregulated in intracellular bacteria, such as Mav1365, Mav2409, Mav4487, and Mav0996, were upregulated in MAC incubated in the 24-h elemental mixture. Like MAC obtained from macrophages, the vacuoles of bacteria from the 24-h elemental mixture were more likely to contain lysosome-associated membrane protein 1 (LAMP-1). A stepwise reduction scheme of the 24-h elemental mixture indicated that incubation in physiologically relevant concentrations of potassium chloride, calcium chloride, and manganese chloride was sufficient to induce characteristics of the intracellular phenotype. It was demonstrated that bacteria harboring the intracellular phenotype induced early-onset macrophage death more efficiently than bacteria grown in broth. This new trace elemental mixture mimicking the condition of the vacuole at different time points has the potential to become an effective laboratory tool for the study of the MAC and Mycobacterium tuberculosis disease process, increasing the understanding of the interaction with macrophages.

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