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Mol Microbiol. 2003 May;48(4):875-88.

Identification and macrophage-activating activity of glycolipids released from intracellular Mycobacterium bovis BCG.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Intracellular mycobacteria release cell wall glycolipids into the endosomal network of infected macrophages. Here, we characterize the glycolipids of Mycobacterium bovis BCG (BCG) that are released into murine bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMMØ). Intracellularly released mycobacterial lipids were harvested from BMMØ that had been infected with 14C-labelled BCG. Released BCG lipids were resolved by thin-layer chromatography, and they migrated similarly to phosphatidylinositol dimannosides (PIM2), mono- and diphosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylethanolamine, trehalose mono- and dimycolates and the phenolic glycolipid, mycoside B. Culture-derived BCG lipids that co-migrated with the intracellularly released lipids were purified and identified by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. When delivered on polystyrene microspheres, fluorescently tagged BCG lipids were also released into the BMMØ, in a manner similar to release from viable or heat-killed BCG bacilli. To determine whether the released lipids elicited macrophage responses, BCG lipid-coated microspheres were delivered to interferon gamma-primed macrophages (BMMØ or thioglycollate-elicited peritoneal macrophages), and reactive nitrogen intermediates as well as tumour necrosis factor-alpha and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 production were induced. When fractionated BCG lipids were delivered on the microspheres, PIM2 species reproduced the macrophage-activating activity of total BCG lipids. These results demonstrate that intracellular mycobacteria release a heterogeneous mix of lipids, some of which elicit the production of proinflammatory cytokines from macrophages that could potentially contribute to the granulomatous response in tuberculous diseases.

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