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Infect Immun. 1989 Aug;57(8):2495-501.

Trehalose dimycolate enhances resistance to infection in neutropenic animals.

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  • 1Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland 20814-5145.


Bacterial infections are lethal complications of neutropenia, and antibiotics alone are inadequate therapy for these infections. Irradiated mice become severely neutropenic and remain susceptible to infection for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the dose and quality of radiation. Some bacterial cell wall derivatives stimulate nonspecific host defense mechanisms against a variety of microbes which might cause postirradiation infection. In this study we determined if the cell wall glycolipid trehalose dimycolate (TDM), derived from Mycobacterium phlei, or a synthetic preparation of TDM was able to (i) enhance survival in mice when given before or after lethal doses of 60Co radiation and (ii) increase nonspecific resistance to postirradiation infection. Treatment with TDM oil-in-water emulsions and with synthetic TDM significantly enhanced survival before and after lethal doses of 60Co irradiation. This result correlated with the ability of TDM to reduce the translocation of intestinal bacteria and to stimulate hematopoiesis. With respect to nonspecific resistance to infection, TDM injected 1 h after sublethal irradiation increased resistance to a lethal Klebsiella pneumoniae challenge (10 50% lethal doses of K. pneumoniae in 30 days [LD50/30]) 4 or 14 days later. Increasing the dose of K. pneumoniae to 5,000 LD50/30 on day 4 overwhelmed the ability of TDM-treated mice to overcome infection. However, TDM treatment 1 h postirradiation combined with ceftriaxone antibiotic therapy (days 5 through 14) enhanced survival, even when the higher dose of bacteria (5,000 LD50/30) was used. These results indicate that in irradiated mice, TDM can be used to enhance survival and, as a potent stimulant of nonspecific resistance to infection in neutropenic mice, can act synergistically with antibiotic therapy to reduce sepsis and mortality.

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