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Nat Chem Biol. 2005 Aug;1(3):149-53. Epub 2005 Jul 3.

Mycobactin-mediated iron acquisition within macrophages.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA.


Restricting the availability of iron is an important strategy for defense against bacterial infection. Mycobacterium tuberculosis survives within the phagosomes of macrophages; consequently, iron acquisition is particularly difficult for M. tuberculosis, because the phagosomal membrane is an additional barrier for its iron access. However, little is known about the iron transport and acquisition pathways adapted by this microbe in vivo. Extracellular iron sources are usually mobilized by hydrophilic siderophores. Here, we describe direct evidence that mycobactins, the lipophilic siderophores of mycobacteria, efficiently extract intracellular macrophage iron. The metal-free siderophore is diffusely associated with the macrophage membrane, ready for iron chelation. Notably, the mycobactin-metal complex accumulates with high selectivity in macrophage lipid droplets, intracellular domains for lipid storage and sorting. In our experiments, these mycobactin-targeted lipid droplets were found in direct contact with phagosomes, poised for iron delivery. The existence of this previously undescribed iron acquisition pathway indicates that mycobacteria have taken advantage of endogenous macrophage mechanisms for iron mobilization and lipid sorting for iron acquisition during infection. The pathway could represent a new target for the control of mycobacterial infection.

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