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Sci Rep. 2019 Jun 17;9(1):8667. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45164-5.

Nitrogen deprivation induces triacylglycerol accumulation, drug tolerance and hypervirulence in mycobacteria.

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Aix-Marseille Univ, CNRS, LISM, IMM FR3479, Marseille, France.
Institut de Recherche en Infectiologie de Montpellier (IRIM), CNRS, UMR 9004, Université de Montpellier, 34293, Montpellier, France.
INSERM, IRIM, 34293, Montpellier, France.
Aix-Marseille Univ, CNRS, LISM, IMM FR3479, Marseille, France.


Mycobacteria share with other actinomycetes the ability to produce large quantities of triacylglycerol (TAG), which accumulate as intracytoplasmic lipid inclusions (ILI) also known as lipid droplets (LD). Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tb), the etiologic agent of tuberculosis, acquires fatty acids from the human host which are utilized to synthesize TAG, subsequently stored in the form of ILI to meet the carbon and nutrient requirements of the bacterium during long periods of persistence. However, environmental factors governing mycobacterial ILI formation and degradation remain poorly understood. Herein, we demonstrated that in the absence of host cells, carbon excess and nitrogen starvation promote TAG accumulation in the form of ILI in M. smegmatis and M. abscessus, used as surrogate species of M. tb. Based on these findings, we developed a simple and reversible in vitro model to regulate ILI biosynthesis and hydrolysis in mycobacteria. We also showed that TAG formation is tgs1 dependent and that lipolytic enzymes mediate TAG breakdown. Moreover, we confirmed that the nitrogen-deprived and ILI-rich phenotype was associated with an increased tolerance towards several drugs used for treating mycobacterial infections. Importantly, we showed that the presence of ILI substantially enhanced the bacterial burden and granuloma abundance in zebrafish embryos infected with lipid-rich M. abscessus as compared to embryos infected with lipid-poor M. abscessus, suggesting that ILI are actively contributing to mycobacterial virulence and pathogenesis.

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