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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1996 Aug;40(8):1790-5.

Detection of rifampin- and ciprofloxacin-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis by using species-specific assays for precursor rRNA.

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Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Washington 98109, USA.


rRNA precursor (pre-rRNA) molecules carry terminal stems which are removed during rRNA synthesis to form the mature rRNA subunits. Their abundance in bacterial cells can be markedly affected by antibiotics which directly or indirectly inhibit RNA synthesis. We evaluated the feasibility of rapidly detecting antibiotic-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains by measuring the effects of brief in vitro antibiotic exposure on mycobacterial pre-rRNA. By hybridizing extracted M. tuberculosis nucleic acid with radiolabeled nucleic acid probes specific for pre-16S rRNA stem sequences, we detected clear responses to rifampin and ciprofloxacin within 24 and 48 h, respectively, of exposure of cultured cells to these drugs. Detectable pre-rRNA was depleted in susceptible cells but remained abundant in resistant cells. In contrast, no measurable responses to isoniazid or ethambutol were observed. Probes for pre-rRNA were specific for the M. tuberculosis complex when tested against a panel of eight Mycobacterium species and 48 other bacteria. After 24 h of incubation with rifampin, resistant M. tuberculosis strains were detectable in a reverse transcriptase PCR assay for pre-rRNA with a calculated lower limit of sensitivity of approximately 10(2) cells. Susceptible cells were negative in this assay at over 500 times the calculated lower limit of sensitivity. This general approach may prove useful for rapidly testing the susceptibility of slowly growing Mycobacterium species to the rifamycin and fluoroquinolone drugs and, with possible modifications, to other drugs as well.

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