University roles and responsibilities
- Bacteriology Section Leader
- Chair Board of Examinations
- Professor of Molecular Bacteriology
08 SEP 2021
Scientists discover how TB controls its growth, revealing new ways to fight the global disease
In the media
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the most important infectious diseases of mankind, claiming 30,000 lives every week. One third of the world's population carry an asymptomatic persistent infection with a 10% risk of progression to active disease. Of the 10 million new cases of tuberculosis every year, more than half a million are caused by strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis that have acquired multidrug-resistance. BCG is currently the only vaccine used against TB and while it is successful in protecting against disease in children, it is ineffective against adult pulmonary TB. Improvement in diagnosis, drugs and vaccines for tuberculosis will be needed to control this epidemic.
Bovine tuberculosis is the most important veterinary health problem in the UK. The projected economic burden to the UK over the next decade is predicted to be £1 billion. Control is likely to require an integrated approach with vaccination of cattle representing a key component. Presently, the M.bovis BCG vaccine represents the most encouraging vaccination option, but it compromises the diagnostic skin test and has a protective efficacy of only ~50-70%.
High-throughput functional genomic studies of M.tuberculosis complex bacteria and their host cells by our lab and others have revealed that virulence is controlled by complex multifactorial interactions between thousands of bacterial and host components. From these interaction networks emerge the properties that characterise the pathogenesis of TB. To understand these networks, our lab makes detailed investigations of molecular interactions in the context of infection systems including human cells and the free living amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Our strategy is that more effective drug and vaccine development strategies are based on a higher level of biological understanding.
We are identifying and studying molecular interaction networks associated with the pathogenesis features below:
Mycobacterial modulation of phagosome biology
The success of M.tuberculosis/M.bovis as pathogens relies on an ability to grow inside host macrophages (and other cells) and then to fashion an escape route that modulates inflammation to its benefit. Multiple factors are involved in intracellular survival but key features are the ability of M. tuberculosis to arrest phagosome maturation, transit from the phagosome to the cytoplasm and escape from the host cell.
Mycobacterial control of host cell death
Evidence suggests that M.tuberculosis is able to control the fate of host cells such as macrophages, neutrophils and dendritic cells. Early in infection it is able to inhibit apoptosis to preserve its replicative niche but later it has the capacity to induce an inflammatory form of cell death.
Mycobacterial growth control
A prominent characteristic of M.tuberculosis complex organisms is slow growth. Control of growth is inextricably linked to persistent infection and phenotypic drug resistance. Understanding the mechanisms bacterial replication and growth control will be important to novel drug discovery.
The mycobacterial stress response
Pathogenic mycobacteria must endure a variety of other hostile environments during infection. The bacteria counter these harsh conditions with specific and general stress responses that remodel the physiology, biochemistry and structure of the cell. These mechanisms are an essential component of pathogenicity.
In collaboration with Professor Mike Taylor we aim to understand the evolution and macroecology of leprosy and tuberculosis by studying ancient pathogen DNA in archaeological specimens. Characterisation of individual polymorphisms or even reconstruction of whole genome sequences is possible for mycobacterial infections from over 1000 years ago, allowing accurate phylogenetic and evolutionary models to be developed.
Financial support for our research is provided by the BBSRC, NC3Rs, European Commission and Commonwealth Scholarship Commission.
I teach on the following courses:
- Biochemistry BSc (Hons)
- Biological Sciences BSc (Hons)
- Biomedical Science BSc (Hons) / MSci (Hons)
- Food Science and Nutrition BSc (Hons)
- Microbiology BSc (Hons)
- Nutrition BSc (Hons)
- Nutrition and Dietetics BSc (Hons)
- Veterinary Biosciences BSc (Hons)
I teach on the following modules:
- BMS1026: Microbiology: An Introduction to the Microbial World
- BMS1047: Introduction to Molecular Biology and Genetics
- BMS2037: Cellular Microbiology and Virology
- BMS3079: Human Microbial Diseases
I teach on the MSc Medical Microbiology course.
I teach on the following modules:
- MMIM018: Microbial Genetics and Molecular Biology
- MMIM026: Research Methods 1
- MMIM024: Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease
ADP-ribosyltransferases use NAD+ to catalyse substrate ADP-ribosylation1, and thereby regulate cellular pathways or contribute to toxin-mediated pathogenicity of bacteria2-4. Reversible ADP-ribosylation has traditionally been considered a protein-specific modification5, but recent in vitro studies have suggested nucleic acids as targets6-9. Here we present evidence that specific, reversible ADP-ribosylation ofDNA on thymidine bases occurs in cellulo through the DarT-DarG toxin-antitoxin system, which is found in a variety of bacteria (including global pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, enteropathogenic Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa)10. We report the structure ofDarT, which identifies this protein as a diverged member ofthe PARP family. We provide a set of high-resolution structures of this enzyme in ligand-free and pre- and post-reaction states, which reveals a specialized mechanism of catalysis that includes a key active-site arginine that extends the canonical ADP-ribosyltransferase toolkit. Comparison with PARP-HPF1, a well-established DNA repair protein ADP-ribosylation complex, offers insights into how the DarT class ofADP-ribosyltransferases evolved into specific DNA-modifying enzymes. Together, our structural and mechanistic data provide details ofthis PARP family member and contribute to a fundamental understanding of the ADP-ribosylation of nucleic acids. We also show that thymine-linked ADP-ribose DNA adducts reversed by DarG antitoxin (functioning as a noncanonical DNA repair factor) are used not only for targeted DNA damage to induce toxicity, but also as a signalling strategy for cellular processes. Using M. tuberculosis as an exemplar, we show that DarT-DarG regulates growth by ADP-ribosylation ofDNA at the origin of chromosome replication.
Systems Biology has established numerous approaches for mechanistic modelling of molecular networks in the cell and a legacy of models. The current frontier is the integration of models expressed in different formalisms to address the multi-scale biological system organisation challenge. We present MUFINS software, implementing a unique set of approaches for multiformalism simulation of interaction networks. We extend the constraint-based modelling (CBM) framework by incorporation of linear inhibition constraints, enabling for the first time linear modelling of networks simultaneously describing gene regulation, signalling and whole-cell metabolism at steady state. We present a use case where a logical hypergraph model of a regulatory network is expressed by linear constraints and integrated with a Genome Scale Metabolic Network (GSMN) of mouse macrophage. We experimentally validate predictions, demonstrating application of our software in an iterative cycle of hypothesis generation, validation and model refinement. MUFINS incorporates an extended version of our Quasi Steady State Petri Net approach to integrate dynamic models with CBM, which we demonstrate through a dynamic model of cortisol signalling integrated with the human Recon2 GSMN and a model of nutrient dynamics in physiological compartments. Finally, we implement a number of methods for deriving metabolic states from ~omics data, including our new variant of the iMAT congruency approach. We compare our approach with iMAT through analysis of 262 individual tumour transcriptomes, recovering features of metabolic reprogramming in cancer. The software provides graphics user interface with network visualisation, which facilitates use by researchers who are not experienced in coding and mathematical modelling environments.
Diagnosis of leprosy and tuberculosis in archaeological material is most informative when based upon entire genomes. Ancient DNA (aDNA) is often degraded but amplification of specific fragments also provides reliable diagnoses. Cell wall lipid biomarkers can distinguish ancient leprosy from tuberculosis and DNA extraction residues can be utilized. The diagnostic power of combined aDNA and lipid biomarkers is illustrated by key cases of ancient leprosy and/or tuberculosis. Human tuberculosis was demonstrated in a woman and child from Atlit-Yam (~9 ka) in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the 600 BCE Egyptian “Granville” mummy. Both aDNA and lipids confirmed Pleistocene tuberculosis in a ~17 ka bison from Natural Trap Cave, Wyoming. Leprosy is exemplified by cases from Winchester (10th–12th centuries CE) and Great Chesterford (5th–6th centuries CE). A mixed infection from Kiskundorozsma, Hungary (7th century CE) allowed lipid biomarkers to assess the relative load of leprosy and tuberculosis. Essential protocols for aDNA amplification and analysis of mycolic, mycolipenic, mycocerosic acid, and phthiocerol lipid biomarkers are summarized. Diagnoses of ancient mycobacterial disease can be extended beyond the reach of whole genomics by combinations of aDNA amplification and lipid biomarkers, with sole use of the latter having the potential to recognize even older cases.
Relatively little is known of leprosy in Medieval Ireland; as an island located at the far west of Europe it has the potential to provide interesting insights in relation to the historical epidemiology of the disease. To this end the study focuses on five cases of probable leprosy identified in human skeletal remains excavated from inhumation burials. Three of the individuals derived from the cemetery of St Michael Le Pole, Golden Lane, Dublin, while single examples were also identified from Ardreigh, Co. Kildare, and St Patrick’s Church, Armoy, Co. Antrim. The individuals were radiocarbon dated and examined biomolecularly for evidence of either of the causative pathogens, M. leprae or M. lepromatosis. Oxygen and strontium isotopes were measured in tooth enamel and rib samples to determine where the individuals had spent their formative years and to ascertain if they had undertaken any recent migrations. We detected M. leprae DNA in the three Golden Lane cases but not in the probable cases from either Ardreigh Co. Kildare or Armoy, Co. Antrim. M. lepromatosis was not detected in any of the burals. DNA preservation was sufficiently robust to allow genotyping of M. leprae strains in two of the Golden Lane burials, SkCXCV (12-13th century) and SkCCXXX (11-13th century). These strains were found to belong on different lineages of the M. leprae phylogenetic tree, namely branches 3 and 2 respectively. Whole genome sequencing was also attempted on these two isolates with a view to gaining further information but poor genome coverage precluded phylogenetic analysis. Data from the biomolecular study was combined with osteological, isotopic and radiocarbon dating to provide a comprehensive and multidisciplinary study of the Irish cases. Strontium and oxygen isotopic analysis indicate that two of the individuals from Golden Lane (SkCXLVIII (10-11th century) and SkCXCV) were of Scandinavian origin, while SkCCXXX may have spent his childhood in the north of Ireland or central Britain. We propose that the Vikings were responsible for introducing leprosy to Ireland. This work adds to our knowledge of the likely origins of leprosy in Medieval Ireland and will hopefully stimulate further research into the history and spread of this ancient disease across the world.
Background BCG is the most widely used vaccine of all time and remains the only licensed vaccine for use against tuberculosis in humans. BCG also protects other species such as cattle against tuberculosis, but due to its incompatibility with current tuberculin testing regimens remains unlicensed. BCG’s efficacy relates to its ability to persist in the host for weeks, months or even years after vaccination. It is unclear to what degree this ability to resist the host’s immune system is maintained by a dynamic interaction between the vaccine strain and its host as is the case for pathogenic mycobacteria. Results To investigate this question, we constructed transposon mutant libraries in both BCG Pasteur and BCG Danish strains and inoculated them into bovine lymph nodes. Cattle are well suited to such an assay, as they are naturally susceptible to tuberculosis and are one of the few animal species for which a BCG vaccination program has been proposed. After three weeks, the BCG were recovered and the input and output libraries compared to identify mutants with in vivo fitness defects. Less than 10% of the mutated genes were identified as affecting in vivo fitness, they included genes encoding known mycobacterial virulence functions such as mycobactin synthesis, sugar transport, reductive sulphate assimilation, PDIM synthesis and cholesterol metabolism. Many other attenuating genes had not previously been recognised as having a virulence phenotype. To test these genes, we generated and characterised three knockout mutants that were predicted by transposon mutagenesis to be attenuating in vivo: pyruvate carboxylase, a hypothetical protein (BCG_1063), and a putative cyclopropane-fatty-acyl-phospholipid synthase. The knockout strains survived as well as wild type during in vitro culture and in bovine macrophages, yet demonstrated marked attenuation during passage in bovine lymph nodes confirming that they were indeed involved in persistence of BCG in the host. Conclusion These data show that BCG is far from passive during its interaction with the host, rather it continues to employ its remaining virulence factors, to interact with the host’s innate immune system to allow it to persist, a property that is important for its protective efficacy.
Studying ancient DNA allows us to retrace the evolutionary history of human pathogens, such as Mycobacterium leprae, the main causative agent of leprosy. Leprosy is one of the oldest recorded and most stigmatizing diseases in human history. The disease was prevalent in Europe until the 16th century and is still endemic in many countries with over 200,000 new cases reported annually. Previous worldwide studies on modern and European medieval M. leprae genomes revealed that they cluster into several distinct branches of which two were present in medieval Northwestern Europe. In this study, we analyzed 10 new medieval M. leprae genomes including the so far oldest M. leprae genome from one of the earliest known cases of leprosy in the United KingdomÐa skeleton from the Great Chesterford cemetery with a calibrated age of 415±545 C.E. This dataset provides a genetic time transect of M. leprae diversity in Europe over the past 1500 years. We find M. leprae strains from four distinct branches to be present in the Early Medieval Period, and strains from three different branches were detected within a single cemetery from the High Medieval Period. Altogether these findings suggest a higher genetic diversity of M. leprae strains in medieval Europe at various time points than previously assumed. The resulting more complex picture of the past phylogeography of leprosy in Europe impacts current phylogeographical models of M. leprae dissemination. It suggests alternative models for the past spread of leprosy such as a wide spread prevalence of strains from different branches in Eurasia already in Antiquity or maybe even an origin in Western Eurasia. Furthermore, these results highlight how studying ancient M. leprae strains improves understanding the history of leprosy worldwide.
We report on a Mycobacterium leprae genome isolated from the remains of an individual with lepromatous leprosy that were excavated from a 7th century Hungarian cemetery. We determined that the genome was from a SNP type 3K0 M. leprae strain, a lineage that diverged early from other M. leprae lineages. This is one of the earliest 3K0 M. leprae genomes to be sequenced to date. A number of novel SNPs as well as SNPs characteristic of the 3K0 lineage were confirmed by conventional PCR and Sanger sequencing. Recovery of accompanying human DNA from the burial was poor, particularly when compared to that of the pathogen. Modern 3K0 M. leprae strains have only been isolated from East Asia and the Pacific and so these findings require new scenarios to describe the origins and routes of dissemination of leprosy during antiquity that have resulted in the modern phylogeographical distribution of M. leprae.
M.leprae is one of the two causative agents of human leprosy; the other being M.lepromatosis. Like M.tuberculosis complex species and other pathogens, M.leprae exhibits phylogeography, meaning that strain variation is associated with geographical regions. Strain genotyping, usually achieved by studying single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), can provide information on likely origins of the disease and human migration routes in antiquity. We have previously confirmed the presence of an M.leprae SNP-type 3 strain in G708, the skeleton of a 10th-11th century individual excavated from the deserted medieval village (DMV) site of Wharram Percy, Yorkshire, UK. The present study has applied additional SNP typing methods to this case to determine the leprosy subtype. This work shows the isolate responsible for leprosy in individual G708 was of the 3I-1 subtype but with some polymorphic loci indicative of other SNP types, which could be considered as ancestral to modern exemplars of this genotype.
Elevated expression of heat-shock proteins (HSPs) can benefit a microbial pathogen struggling to penetrate host defenses during infection, but at the same time might provide a crucial signal alerting the host immune system to its presence. To determine which of these effects predominate, we constructed a mutant strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis that constitutively overexpresses Hsp70 proteins. Although the mutant was fully virulent in the initial stage of infection, it was significantly impaired in its ability to persist during the subsequent chronic phase. Induction of microbial genes encoding HSPs might provide a novel strategy to boost the immune response of individuals with latent tuberculosis infection.
Mycobacterium bovis is the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis and the predominant cause of zoonotic tuberculosis in people. Bovine tuberculosis occurs in farmed cattle but also in a variety of wild animals, which form a reservoir of infection. Although direct transmission of tuberculosis occurs between mammals, the low frequency of contact between different host species and abundant shedding of bacilli by infected animals suggests an infectious route via environmental contamination. Other intracellular pathogens that transmit via the environment deploy strategies to survive or exploit predation by environmental amoebae. To explore if M. bovis has this capability, we investigated its interactions with the soil and dung-dwelling amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum. We demonstrated that M. bovis evades phagocytosis and destruction by D. discoideum and actively transits through the amoeba using the ESX-1 Type VII Secretion System as part of a programme of mechanisms, many of which have been co-opted as virulence factors in the mammalian host. This capacity of M. bovis to utilise an environmental stage between mammalian hosts may enhance its transmissibility. In addition, our data provide molecular evidence to support an evolutionary role for amoebae as training grounds for the pathogenic M. tuberculosis complex.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis infects a third of the world's population. Primary tuberculosis involving active fast bacterial replication is often followed by asymptomatic latent tuberculosis, which is characterised by slow or non-replicating bacteria. Reactivation of the latent infection involving a switch back to active bacterial replication can lead to post-primary transmissible tuberculosis. Mycobacterial mechanisms involved in slow growth or switching growth rate provide rational targets for the development of new drugs against persistent mycobacterial infection. Using chemostat culture to control growth rate, we screened a transposon mutant library by Transposon site hybridization (TraSH) selection to define the genetic requirements for slow and fast growth of Mycobacterium bovis (BCG) and for the requirements of switching growth rate. We identified 84 genes that are exclusively required for slow growth (69 hours doubling time) and 256 genes required for switching from slow to fast growth. To validate these findings we performed experiments using individual M. tuberculosis and M. bovis BCG knock out mutants. We have demonstrated that growth rate control is a carefully orchestrated process which requires a distinct set of genes encoding several virulence determinants, gene regulators, and metabolic enzymes. The mce1 locus appears to be a component of the switch to slow growth rate, which is consistent with the proposed role in virulence of M. tuberculosis. These results suggest novel perspectives for unravelling the mechanisms involved in the switch between acute and persistent TB infections and provide a means to study aspects of this important phenomenon in vitro.
PRRS control is hampered by the inadequacies of existing vaccines to combat the extreme diversity of circulating viruses. Since immune clearance of PRRSV infection may not be dependent on the development of neutralising antibodies and the identification of broadly- neutralising antibody epitopes have proven elusive we hypothesised that conserved T cell antigens represent potential candidates for development of a novel PRRS vaccine. Previously we had identified the M and NSP5 proteins as well-conserved targets of polyfunctional CD8 and CD4 T cells. To assess their vaccine potential, peptides representing M and NSP5 were encapsulated in hydrophobically-modified chitosan particles adjuvanted by incorporation of a synthetic multi-TLR2/TLR7 agonist and coated with a model B cell PRRSV antigen. For comparison, empty particles and adjuvanted particles encapsulating inactivated PRRSV-1
The remains of a 3-5 year-old child from the late mediaeval cemetery serving the Priory of St. Peter and St. Paul, Taunton, Somerset, UK was the subject of an aDNA study. The aim was to distinguish between two differential diagnoses suggested by earlier osteological examination of the remains; either tuberculosis or Langerhans cell histiocytosis. The remains tested positive for MTB complex markers, corroborating this diagnosis reached on osteological grounds. Based on positivity for the mtp40 element and a deletion in the pks15/1 locus, we conclude that infection was due to a strain of the human pathogen M.tuberculosis belonging to lineage 4. Although DNA recovered from the case was heavily fragmented, sex determination by amelogenin PCR suggested these are the remains of a young male child. The findings are discussed considering additions to the literature since the original report. Descriptions of tuberculosis in children from this period are rare and burial Sk2077 represents the first UK example of a pre-adolescent individual to have a molecular diagnosis combined with osteological pathology. This provides an important reference of childhood tuberculosis and insight into the likely presence of tuberculosis in the mediaeval adult population served by this cemetery.
Purpose. A woman’s skull, exhibiting features of lepromatous leprosy (LL), was recovered from a garden in Hoxne, Suffolk. The absence of post crania and lack of formal excavation meant that diagnosis and dating was uncertain. The aim of this research was to confirm the diagnosis using biomolecular means and second, to place it in context with other British leprosy cases using SNP genotyping and radiocarbon dating. Methodology. Bone from the skull was analysed by ancient DNA (aDNA) methods and subjected to radiocarbon dating. As a result, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values were produced, both useful for assessing aspects of the woman’s diet. Results/Key findings. aDNA confirmed the presence of mycobacterium leprae and genotyping demonstrated an ancestral variant of subtype 3I, the same lineage recently identified in living squirrels in the south of England. Radiocarbon dating revealed the woman lived approximately between 885–1015 AD, providing evidence for endurance of this subtype in East Anglia, having been previously identified as early as the fifth–sixth century (Great Chesterford) and as late as the thirteenth century (Ipswich). Conclusions. The confirmation of a new pre-Norman leprosy case in East Anglia is of interest as this is where a high proportion of cases are located. Possible factors for this may include preservation and excavation biases, population density, but also connection and trade, possibly of fur, with the continent. Future research on other British LL cases should focus on exploring these aspects to advance understanding of the disease’s history, here and on the continent.
BACKGROUND: Mycobacterium tuberculosis continues to kill more people than any other bacterium. Although its archetypal host cell is the macrophage, it also enters, and survives within, dendritic cells (DCs). By modulating the behaviour of the DC, M. tuberculosis is able to manipulate the host's immune response and establish an infection. To identify the M. tuberculosis genes required for survival within DCs we infected primary human DCs with an M. tuberculosis transposon library and identified mutations with a reduced ability to survive. RESULTS: Parallel sequencing of the transposon inserts of the surviving mutants identified a large number of genes as being required for optimal intracellular fitness in DCs. Loci whose mutation attenuated intracellular survival included those involved in synthesising cell wall lipids, not only the well-established virulence factors, pDIM and cord factor, but also sulfolipids and PGL, which have not previously been identified as having a direct virulence role in cells. Other attenuated loci included the secretion systems ESX-1, ESX-2 and ESX-4, alongside many PPE genes, implicating a role for ESX-5. In contrast the canonical ESAT-6 family of ESX substrates did not have intra-DC fitness costs suggesting an alternative ESX-1 associated virulence mechanism. With the aid of a gene-nutrient interaction model, metabolic processes such as cholesterol side chain catabolism, nitrate reductase and cysteine-methionine metabolism were also identified as important for survival in DCs. CONCLUSION: We conclude that many of the virulence factors required for survival in DC are shared with macrophages, but that survival in DCs also requires several additional functions, such as cysteine-methionine metabolism, PGLs, sulfolipids, ESX systems and PPE genes.
Bovine tuberculosis is an important animal health problem and the predominant cause of zoonotic tuberculosis worldwide. It results in serious economic burden due to losses in productivity and the cost of control programmes. Control could be greatly improved by the introduction of an efficacious cattle vaccine but the most likely candidate, BCG, has several limitations including variable efficacy. Augmentation of BCG with a subunit vaccine booster has been shown to increase protection but the selection of antigens has hitherto been left largely to serendipity. In the present study, we take a rational approach to identify the protective antigens of BCG, selecting a BCG transposon mutant library in naïve and BCG-vaccinated cattle. Ten mutants had increased relative survival in vaccinated compared to naïve cattle, consistent with loss of protective antigen targets making the mutants less visible to the BCG immune response. The immunogenicity of three putative protective antigens, BCG_0116, BCG_0205 (YrbE1B) and BCG_1448 (PPE20) was investigated using peptide pools and PBMCs from BCG vaccinated cattle. BCG vaccination induced PBMC to release elevated levels of IP10, IL-17a and IL-10 in response to all three antigens. Taken together, the data supports the further study of these antigens for use in subunit vaccines.
An important mechanism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis pathogenesis is the ability to control cell death pathways in infected macrophages: apoptotic cell death is bactericidal, whereas necrotic cell death may facilitate bacterial dissemination and transmission.
Stress-induced adaptations requiremultiple levels of regulation in all organisms to repair cellular damage. In the present study we evaluated the genome-wide transcriptional and translational changes following heat stress exposure in the soil-dwelling model actinomycete bacterium, Streptomyces coelicolor. The combined analysis revealed an unprecedented level of translational control of gene expression, deduced through polysome profiling, in addition to transcriptional changes. Our data show little correlation between the transcriptome and ‘translatome’; while an obvious downward trend in genome wide transcription was observed, polysome associated transcripts following heat-shock showed an opposite upward trend. A handful of key protein players, including the major molecular chaperones and proteases were highly induced at both the transcriptional and translational level following heat-shock, a phenomenon known as ‘potentiation’. Many other transcripts encoding cold-shock proteins, ABC-transporter systems, multiple transcription factors weremore highly polysome-associated following heat stress; interestingly, these protein families were not induced at the transcriptional level and therefore were not previously identified as part of the stress response. Thus, stress coping mechanisms at the level of gene expression in this bacterium go well beyond the induction of a relatively small number of molecular chaperones and proteases in order to ensure cellular survival at non-physiological temperatures.
An important feature of Mycobacterium tuberculosis pathogenesis is the ability to control cell death in infected host cells, including inhibition of apoptosis and stimulation of necrosis. Recently an alternative form of programmed cell death, necroptosis, has been described where necrotic cell death is induced by apoptotic stimuli under conditions where apoptotic execution is inhibited. We show for the first time that M. tuberculosis and TNFα synergise to induce necroptosis in murine fibroblasts via RIPK1-dependent mechanisms and characterized by phosphorylation of Ser345 of the MLKL necroptosis death effector. However, in murine macrophages M. tuberculosis and TNFα induce non-necroptotic cell death that is RIPK1-dependent but independent of MLKL phosphorylation. Instead, M. tuberculosis-infected macrophages undergo RIPK3-dependent cell death which occurs both in the presence and absence of TNFα and involves the production of mitochondrial ROS. Immunocytochemical staining for MLKL phosphorylation further demonstrated the occurrence of necroptosis in vivo in murine M. tuberculosis granulomas. Phosphorylated- MLKL immunoreactivity was observed associated with the cytoplasm and nucleus of fusiform cells in M. tuberculosis lesions but not in proximal macrophages. Thus whereas pMLKL-driven necroptosis does not appear to be a feature of M. tuberculosis-infected macrophage cell death, it may contribute to TNFα-induced cytotoxicity of the lung stroma and therefore contribute to necrotic cavitation and bacterial dissemination.
Chaperone and protease systems play essential roles in cellular homeostasis and have vital functions in controlling the abundance of specific cellular proteins involved in processes such as transcription, replication, metabolism and virulence. Bacteria have evolved accurate regulatory systems to control the expression and function of chaperones and potentially destructive proteases. Here, we have used a combination of transcriptomics, proteomics and targeted mutagenesis to reveal that the clp gene regulator (ClgR) of Mycobacterium tuberculosis activates the transcription of at least ten genes, including four that encode protease systems (ClpP1/C, ClpP2/C, PtrB and HtrA-like protease Rv1043c) and three that encode chaperones (Acr2, ClpB and the chaperonin Rv3269). Thus, M. tuberculosis ClgR controls a larger network of protein homeostatic and regulatory systems than ClgR in any other bacterium studied to date. We demonstrate that ClgR-regulated transcriptional activation of these systems is essential for M. tuberculosis to replicate in macrophages. Furthermore, we observe that this defect is manifest early in infection, as M. tuberculosis lacking ClgR is deficient in the ability to control phagosome pH 1 h post-phagocytosis.