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Microbiology. 2002 Oct;148(Pt 10):3139-3144. doi: 10.1099/00221287-148-10-3139.

Oxidative stress response genes in Mycobacterium tuberculosis: role of ahpC in resistance to peroxynitrite and stage-specific survival in macrophages.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology1 and Department of Pharmacy2, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, 915 Camino de Salud, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.
Institute for Medical Microbiology, Medizinische Hochschule, 30625, Hannover, Germany3.
Institute of Medical Microbiology, University of Zurich, CH-8028 Zurich, Switzerland4.


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis ahpC gene, encoding the mycobacterial orthologue of alkylhydroperoxide reductase, undergoes an unusual regulatory cycle. The levels of AhpC alternate between stages of expression silencing in virulent strains grown as aerated cultures, secondary to a natural loss of the regulatory oxyR function in all strains of the tubercle bacillus, and expression activation in static bacilli by a yet undefined mechanism. The reasons for this unorthodox regulatory cycle controlling expression of an antioxidant factor are currently not known. In this work, M. tuberculosis H37Rv and Mycobacterium smegmatis mc(2)155 ahpC knockout mutants were tested for sensitivity to reactive nitrogen intermediates, in particular peroxynitrite, a highly reactive combinatorial product of reactive nitrogen and oxygen species, and sensitivity to bactericidal mechanisms in resting and activated macrophages. Both M. tuberculosis ahpC::Km(r) and M. smegmatis ahpC::Km(r) showed increased susceptibility to peroxynitrite. In contrast, inactivation of ahpC in M. tuberculosis did not cause increased sensitivity to donors of NO alone. M. tuberculosis ahpC::Km(r) also showed decreased survival in unstimulated macrophages, but the effect was no longer detectable upon IFNgamma activation. These studies establish a specific role for ahpC in antioxidant defences involving peroxynitrite and most likely additional cidal mechanisms in macrophages, with the regulatory cycle likely contributing to survival upon coming out of the stationary phase during dormancy (latent infection) or upon transmission to a new host.

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