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J Leukoc Biol. 2006 Jan;79(1):80-6. Epub 2005 Nov 7.

Virulent clinical isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis grow rapidly and induce cellular necrosis but minimal apoptosis in murine macrophages.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.


In this study, we investigated the ability of four clinical isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis representing a range of virulence for their capacity to grow in bone marrow-derived macrophages. The rate of growth of each of the isolates in macrophages reflected their known virulence, but the most virulent isolates strongly induced production of the cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha. A key difference, however, was the degree of cell cytotoxicity observed with the more virulent strains after several days in culture. Staining of cell monolayers for DNA fragmentation indicative of apoptosis showed that this was minimal and only evident to any degree in macrophages infected with the most virulent strains. In contrast, electron microscopy revealed damage of macrophages consistent with cell necrosis. These results suggest that rapid intracellular growth rate and induction of necrotic cell death within host macrophages are virulence factors of M. tuberculosis in the early stages of bacterial infection. They further imply that infected cell apoptosis, regarded as a defense mechanism or cross-priming mechanism, plays a minimal role.

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