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Infect Immun. 2008 Jul;76(7):3027-36. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01663-07. Epub 2008 Apr 28.

The phenolic glycolipid of Mycobacterium tuberculosis differentially modulates the early host cytokine response but does not in itself confer hypervirulence.

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Laboratory of Mycobacterial Immunity and Pathogenesis, Public Health Research Institute Center, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 225 Warren St., Newark, NJ 07103, USA.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis possesses a diversity of potential virulence factors including complex branched lipids such as the phenolic glycolipid PGL-tb. PGL-tb expression by the clinical M. tuberculosis isolate HN878 has been associated with a less efficient Th1 response and increased virulence in mice and rabbits. It has been suggested that the W-Beijing family is the only group of M. tuberculosis strains with an intact pks1-15 gene, required for the synthesis of PGL-tb and capable of producing PGL-tb. We have found that some strains with an intact pks1-15 do not produce PGL-tb while others may produce a variant of PGL-tb. We examined the early host cytokine response to infection with these strains in vitro to better understand the effect of PGL-tb synthesis on immune responses. In addition, we generated a PGL-tb-producing H37Rv in order to determine the effect of PGL-tb production on the host immune response during infection by a strain normally devoid of PGL-tb synthesis. We observed that PGL-tb production by clinical M. tuberculosis isolates affected cytokine production differently depending on the background of the strain. Importantly, while ectopic PGL-tb production by H37Rv suppressed the induction of several pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in vitro in human monocytes, it did not lead to increased virulence in infected mice and rabbits. Collectively, our data indicate that, while PGL-tb may play a role in the immunogenicity and/or virulence of M. tuberculosis, it probably acts in concert with other bacterial factors which seem to be dependent on the background of the strain.

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