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J Bacteriol. 2006 Sep;188(17):6245-52.

A mycothiol synthase mutant of Mycobacterium tuberculosis has an altered thiol-disulfide content and limited tolerance to stress.

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Department of Pathology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0314, USA.


Mycothiol (MSH) (acetyl-Cys-GlcN-Ins) is the major low-molecular-mass thiol in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. MSH has antioxidant activity, can detoxify a variety of toxic compounds, and helps to maintain the reducing environment of the cell. The production of MSH provides a potential novel target for tuberculosis treatment. Biosynthesis of MSH requires at least four genes. To determine which of these genes is essential in M. tuberculosis, we have been constructing targeted gene disruptions. Disruption in the mshC gene is lethal to M. tuberculosis, while disruption in the mshB gene results in MSH levels 20 to 100% of those of the wild type. For this study, we have constructed a targeted gene disruption in the mshD gene that encodes mycothiol synthase, the final enzyme in MSH biosynthesis. The mshD mutant produced approximately 1% of normal MSH levels but high levels of the MshD substrate Cys-GlcN-Ins and the novel thiol N-formyl-Cys-GlcN-Ins. Although N-formyl-Cys-GlcN-Ins was maintained in a highly reduced state, Cys-GlcN-Ins was substantially oxidized. In both the wild type and the mshD mutant, cysteine was predominantly oxidized. The M. tuberculosis mshD mutant grew poorly on agar plates lacking catalase and oleic acid and in low-pH media and had heightened sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide. The inability of the mshD mutant to survive and grow in macrophages may be associated with its altered thiol-disulfide status. It appears that N-formyl-Cys-GlcN-Ins serves as a weak surrogate for MSH but is not sufficient to support normal growth of M. tuberculosis under stress conditions such as those found within the macrophage.

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