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Mol Microbiol. 1998 Sep;29(6):1449-58.

The effect of oxygenated mycolic acid composition on cell wall function and macrophage growth in Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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Tuberculosis Research Section, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, MT 59840-2999, USA.


There are three major structural classes of mycolic acids in the cell envelope of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB): alpha-, methoxy- and ketomycolate. The two oxygen-containing classes are biosynthetically related through a common alpha-methyl hydroxymycolate intermediate. BCG strains that fail to produce methoxymycolate and instead produce only keto- and alpha-mycolic acids show apparent defects in the O-methyltransferase MMAS-3. Overproduction of MMAS-3 from MTB resulted in a complete replacement of ketomycolate by methoxymycolate in both BCG and MTB. In vitro growth of these recombinant strains lacking ketomycolate was impaired at reduced temperatures but appeared to be normal at 37 degrees C. Glucose uptake was significantly decreased in such strains, but uptake of chenodeoxycholate and glycine was unaffected. Although sensitivity to INH remained unchanged, these cells were found to be hypersensitive to ampicillin and rifampicin. Infectivity of BCG and H37Rv wild type or MMAS-3 overproducers in THP-1 cells was somewhat affected, but the ability of the strains lacking ketomycolate to grow within this macrophage-like cell line was severely compromised. In vivo labelling of mycolic acids during growth of H37Rv within THP-1 cells revealed a substantial increase in ketomycolate and alphamycolate synthesized by intracellularly grown mycobacteria. These results establish a critical role for mycolate composition in proper cell wall function during the growth of MTB in vivo.

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