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Microbiology. 2004 Apr;150(Pt 4):967-978. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.26778-0.

Analysis of genetic polymorphisms affecting the four phospholipase C (plc) genes in Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex clinical isolates.

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Departamento de Microbiologia, Imunologia e Parasitologia, Universidade Federal de São Paulo - Escola Paulista de Medicina (UNIFESP-EPM), Rua Botucatu, 862 3° andar, 04023-062, São Paulo, Brazil.
Diagnostic Laboratory of Infectious Diseases and Perinatal Screening, National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), PO Box 1, 3720 BA, The Netherlands.


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome contains four highly related genes which present significant similarity to Pseudomonas aeruginosa genes encoding phospholipase C enzymes. Three of these genes, plcA, plcB and plcC, are organized in tandem (locus plcABC). The fourth gene, plcD, is located in a different region. This study investigates variations in plcABC and plcD genes in clinical isolates of M. tuberculosis, Mycobacterium africanum and 'Mycobacterium canettii'. Genetic polymorphisms were examined by PCR, Southern blot hybridization, sequence analysis and RT-PCR. Seven M. tuberculosis isolates contain insertions of IS6110 elements within plcA, plcC or plcD. In 19 of 25 M. tuberculosis isolates examined, genomic deletions were identified, resulting in loss of parts of genes or complete genes from the plcABC and/or plcD loci. Partial plcD deletion was observed in one M. africanum isolate. In each case, deletions were associated with the presence of a copy of the IS6110 element and in all occurrences IS6110 was transposed in the same orientation. A mechanism of deletion resulting from homologous recombination of two copies of IS6110 was recognized in a group of genetically related M. tuberculosis isolates. Five M. tuberculosis isolates presented major polymorphisms in the plcABC and plcD regions, along with loss of expression competence that affected all four plc genes. Phospholipase C is a well-known bacterial virulence factor. The precise role of phospholipase C in the pathogenicity of M. tuberculosis is unknown, but considering the potential importance that the plc genes may have in the virulence of the tubercle bacillus, the study of isolates cultured from patients with active tuberculosis bearing genetic variations affecting these genes may provide insights into the significance of phospholipase C enzymes for tuberculosis pathogenicity.

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