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Infect Immun. 1996 Jan;64(1):319-25.

Intracellular fate of Mycobacterium avium: use of dual-label spectrofluorometry to investigate the influence of bacterial viability and opsonization on phagosomal pH and phagosome-lysosome interaction.

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Department of Pharmaceutics, State University of New York at Buffalo, Amherst 14260, USA.


Mycobacterium avium is a facultative intracellular pathogen that can survive and replicate within macrophages. We tested the hypotheses that survival mechanisms may include alteration of phagosomal pH or inhibition of phagosome-lysosome fusion. M. avium was surface labeled with N-hydroxysuccinimidyl esters of carboxyfluorescein (CF) and rhodamine (Rho) to enable measurement of the pH of individual M. avium-containing phagosomes and the interactions of bacterium-containing phagosomes with labeled secondary lysosomes. CF fluorescence is pH sensitive, whereas Rho is pH insensitive; pH can be calculated from their fluorescence ratios. Surface labeling of M. avium did not affect viability in broth cultures or within J774, a murine macrophage-like cell line. By fluorescence spectroscopy, live M. avium was exposed to an environmental pH of approximately 5.7 at 6 h after phagocytosis, whereas similarly labeled Salmonella typhimurium, zymosan A, or heat-killed M. avium encountered an environmental pH of < 5.0. Video fluorescence and laser scanning confocal microscopy gave consistent pH results and demonstrated the heterogeneity of intracellular fate early in infection. pH became more homogeneous 6 h after infection. M. avium cells were coated with immunoglobulin G (IgG) or opsonized to investigate whether phagocytosis by the corresponding receptors would alter intracellular fate. Opsonized, unopsonized, and IgG-coated M. avium cells entered compartments of similar pH. Finally, the spatial distribution of intracellular bacteria and secondary lysosomes was compared. Only 18% of live fluorescent M. avium cells colocalized with fluorescent lysosomes, while 98% of heat-killed bacteria colocalized. Thus, both inhibition of phagosome-lysosome fusion and alteration of phagosomal pH may contribute to the intracellular survival of M. avium.

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