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Infect Immun. 2004 Oct;72(10):5676-86.

The glycan-rich outer layer of the cell wall of Mycobacterium tuberculosis acts as an antiphagocytic capsule limiting the association of the bacterium with macrophages.

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  • 1Department of Paediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis, is a facultative intracellular pathogen that infects macrophages and other host cells. We show that sonication of M. tuberculosis results in the removal of material from the surface capsule-like layer of the bacteria, resulting in an enhanced propensity of the bacteria to bind to macrophages. This effect is observed with disparate murine and human macrophage populations though, interestingly, not with freshly explanted alveolar macrophages. Enhanced binding to macrophages following sonication is significantly greater within members of the M. tuberculosis family (pathogens) than within the Mycobacterium avium complex (opportunistic pathogens) or for Mycobacterium smegmatis (saprophyte). Sonication does not affect the viability or the surface hydrophobicity of M. tuberculosis but does result in changes in surface charge and in the binding of mannose-specific lectins to the bacterial surface. The increased binding of sonicated M. tuberculosis was not mediated through complement receptor 3. These results provide evidence that the surface capsule on members of the M. tuberculosis family may be an important virulence factor involved in the survival of M. tuberculosis in the mammalian host. They also question the view that M. tuberculosis is readily ingested by any macrophage it encounters and support the contention that M. tuberculosis, like many other microbial pathogens, has an antiphagocytic capsule that limits and controls the interaction of the bacterium with macrophages.

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