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J Biol Chem. 2009 Oct 2;284(40):27101-13. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.041939. Epub 2009 Aug 2.

A lipid profile typifies the Beijing strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis: identification of a mutation responsible for a modification of the structures of phthiocerol dimycocerosates and phenolic glycolipids.

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Institut de Pharmacologie et de Biologie Structurale, CNRS, F-31077 Toulouse, France.


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis Beijing strains are a family highly prevalent in Asia and have recently spread worldwide, causing a number of epidemics, suggesting that they express virulence factors not found in other M. tuberculosis strains. Accordingly, we looked for putative characteristic compounds by comparing the lipid profiles of several Beijing and non-Beijing strains. All the Beijing strains analyzed were found to synthesize structural variants of two well known characteristic lipids of the tubercle bacillus, namely phthiocerol dimycocerosates (DIM) and eventually phenolglycolipids (PGL). These variants were not found in non-Beijing M. tuberculosis isolates. Structural elucidation of these variants showed that they consist of phthiotriol and glycosylated phenolphthiotriol dimycocerosates, eventually acylated with 1 mol of palmitic acid, in addition to the conventional acylation of the beta-diol by mycocerosic acids. We demonstrated that this unusual lipid profile resulted from a single point mutation in the Rv2952 gene, which encodes the S-adenosylmethionine-dependent methyltransferase participating to the O-methylation of the third hydroxyl of the phthiotriol and phenolphthiotriol in the biosynthetic pathway of DIM and PGL. Consistently, the mutated enzyme exhibited in vitro a much lower O-methyltransferase activity than did the wild-type Rv2952. We finally demonstrated that the structural variants of DIM and PGL fulfill the same function in the cell envelope and virulence than their conventional counterparts.

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