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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 21;6(3):e17550. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017550.

Location of intra- and extracellular M. tuberculosis populations in lungs of mice and guinea pigs during disease progression and after drug treatment.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States of America.


The lengthy treatment regimen for tuberculosis is necessary to eradicate a small sub-population of M. tuberculosis that persists in certain host locations under drug pressure. Limited information is available on persisting bacilli and their location within the lung during disease progression and after drug treatment. Here we provide a comprehensive histopathological and microscopic evaluation to elucidate the location of bacterial populations in animal models for TB drug development.To detect bacilli in tissues, a new combination staining method was optimized using auramine O and rhodamine B for staining acid-fast bacilli, hematoxylin QS for staining tissue and DAPI for staining nuclei. Bacillary location was studied in three animal models used in-house for TB drug evaluations: C57BL/6 mice, immunocompromised GKO mice and guinea pigs. In both mouse models, the bacilli were found primarily intracellularly in inflammatory lesions at most stages of disease, except for late stage GKO mice, which showed significant necrosis and extracellular bacilli after 25 days of infection. This is also the time when hypoxia was initially visualized in GKO mice by 2-piminidazole. In guinea pigs, the majority of bacteria in lungs are extracellular organisms in necrotic lesions and only few, if any, were ever visualized in inflammatory lesions. Following drug treatment in mice a homogenous bacillary reduction across lung granulomas was observed, whereas in guinea pigs the remaining extracellular bacilli persisted in lesions with residual necrosis. In summary, differences in pathogenesis between animal models infected with M. tuberculosis result in various granulomatous lesion types, which affect the location, environment and state of bacilli. The majority of M. tuberculosis bacilli in an advanced disease state were found to be extracellular in necrotic lesions with an acellular rim of residual necrosis. Drug development should be designed to target this bacillary population and should evaluate drug regimens in the appropriate animal models.

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