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Mol Microbiol. 2013 Nov;90(3):612-29. doi: 10.1111/mmi.12387. Epub 2013 Sep 17.

Identification and characterization of the genetic changes responsible for the characteristic smooth-to-rough morphotype alterations of clinically persistent Mycobacterium abscessus.

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Institut Pasteur, Unit for Integrated Mycobacterial Pathogenomics, Paris, France; EA 3647, University Versailles St Quentin in Yvelines, Garches, France; Microbiology Laboratory, Assistance Publique - Hôpitaux de Paris, Raymond Poincaré Hospital, Garches, France.


Mycobacterium abscessus is an emerging pathogen that is increasingly recognized as a relevant cause of human lung infection in cystic fibrosis patients. This highly antibiotic-resistant mycobacterium is an exception within the rapidly growing mycobacteria, which are mainly saprophytic and non-pathogenic organisms. M. abscessus manifests as either a smooth (S) or a rough (R) colony morphotype, which is of clinical importance as R morphotypes are associated with more severe and persistent infections. To better understand the molecular mechanisms behind the S/R alterations, we analysed S and R variants of three isogenic M. abscessus S/R pairs using an unbiased approach involving genome and transcriptome analyses, transcriptional fusions and integrating constructs. This revealed different small insertions, deletions (indels) or single nucleotide polymorphisms within the non-ribosomal peptide synthase gene cluster mps1-mps2-gap or mmpl4b in the three R variants, consistent with the transcriptional differences identified within this genomic locus that is implicated in the synthesis and transport of Glyco-Peptido-Lipids (GPL). In contrast to previous reports, the identification of clearly defined genetic lesions responsible for the loss of GPL-production or transport makes a frequent switching back-and-forth between smooth and rough morphologies in M. abscessus highly unlikely, which is important for our understanding of persistent M. abscessus infections.

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