1887

Abstract

Phenotypically heterogeneous but genetically identical mycobacterial subpopulations exist in in vitro cultures, in vitro-infected macrophages, infected animal models and tuberculosis patients. In this regard, we recently reported the presence of two subpopulations of cells, which are phenotypically different in length and buoyant density, in mycobacterial cultures. These are the low-buoyant-density short-sized cells (SCs), which constitute ~10–20 % of the population, and the high-buoyant-density normal/long-sized cells (NCs), which form ~80–90 % of the population. The SCs were found to be significantly more susceptible to rifampicin (RIF), isoniazid (INH), H2O2 and acidified nitrite than the NCs. Here we report that the RIF-/INH-/H2O2-exposed SCs showed significantly higher levels of oxidative stress and therefore higher susceptibility than the equivalent number of exposed NCs. Significantly higher levels of hydroxyl radical and superoxide were found in the antibiotic-exposed SCs than in the equivalently exposed NCs. Different proportions of the subpopulation of SCs were found to have different levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The hydroxyl radical quencher, thiourea, and the superoxide dismutase mimic, TEMPOL, significantly reduced hydroxyl radical and superoxide levels, respectively, in the antibiotic-exposed SCs and NCs and thereby decreased their differential susceptibility to antibiotics. Thus, the present study shows that the heterogeneity of the reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels in these mycobacterial subpopulations confers differential susceptibility to antibiotics. We have discussed the possible mechanisms that can generate differential ROS levels in the antibiotic-exposed SCs and NCs. The present study advances our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying antibiotic tolerance in mycobacteria.

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/content/journal/micro/10.1099/mic.0.000797
2019-05-15
2020-02-25
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