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J Microbiol. 2013 Oct;51(5):619-26. doi: 10.1007/s12275-013-3092-y. Epub 2013 Sep 14.

Free mycolic acid accumulation in the cell wall of the mce1 operon mutant strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, 94720, USA.


The lipid-rich cell wall of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent of tuberculosis, serves as an effective barrier against many chemotherapeutic agents and toxic host cell effector molecules, and it may contribute to the mechanism of persistence. Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains mutated in a 13-gene operon called mce1, which encodes a putative ABC lipid transporter, induce aberrant granulomatous response in mouse lungs. Because of the postulated role of the mce1 operon in lipid importation, we compared the cell wall lipid composition of wild type and mce1 operon mutant M. tuberculosis H37Rv strains. High resolution mass spectrometric analyses of the mce1 mutant lipid extracts showed unbound mycolic acids to accumulate in the cell wall. Quantitative analysis revealed a 10.7 fold greater amount of free mycolates in the mutant compared to that of the wild type strain. The free mycolates were comprised of alpha, methoxy and keto mycolates in the ratio 1:0.9:0.6, respectively. Since the mce1 operon is regulated in vivo, the free mycolates that accumulate during infection may serve as a barrier for M. tuberculosis against toxic products and contribute to the pathogen's persistence.

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