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Infect Immun. 1997 Jul;65(7):2792-802.

The phagosomal environment protects virulent Mycobacterium avium from killing and destruction by clarithromycin.

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INSERM U411, Laboratoire de Microbiologie, UFR de Médecine Necker Enfants Malades, Paris, France.


Murine bone marrow-derived macrophages (Mphis) infected with virulent strains of Mycobacterium avium (TMC 724 and a human clinical isolate) or with an avirulent opaque variant that spontaneously dissociates from the virulent human clinical isolate were subjected to a prolonged and continuous treatment with clarithromycin added at the MIC. The efficiency of this antibiotic in terms of inhibition of bacterial growth and bacterial degradation was evaluated during a 21-day treatment period. Growth was assessed by determination of CFU of intracellular bacteria and by a quantitative ultrastructural analysis which allowed us also to determine the extent of bacterial degradation. A similar treatment was applied to the same strains growing in liquid medium. Our data show that in liquid medium, clarithromycin caused a 90% decrease in CFU within 7 days of treatment. When applied to Mphis infected with virulent M. avium, clarithromycin immediately arrested bacterial growth but was unable to fully kill and degrade intracellularly growing virulent bacteria. After 21 days of treatment, 25% of intracellular bacteria were still morphologically intact. These bacteria resumed growth upon removal of the antibiotic, with a normal replication rate. These bacteria had not become more resistant to the drug, since the MIC was unchanged as compared to the one determined for the initial stock used to infect Mphis. Our data therefore suggest that the intraphagosomal environment protects bacteria from degradation. We propose that the inability of the drug to completely destroy bacteria is the result of a limited accessibility of the drug due to prevention of fusions between the immature phagosomes in which virulent bacteria reside and lysosomes in which clarithromycin accumulates. In accord with our proposal, we show that the avirulent opaque variant, which does not prevent phagosome-lysosome fusions (unpublished data), is finally destroyed by clarithromycin even within the phagosomal environment.

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