A Persistent Tuberculosis Outbreak in the UK Is Characterized by Hydrophobic fadB4-Deficient Mycobacterium tuberculosis That Replicates Rapidly in Macrophages
The genetic diversity of Mycobacterium tuberculosis can influence disease severity and transmissibility. To better understand how this diversity influences individuals and communities, we phenotyped M. tuberculosis that was causing a persistent outbreak in the East Midlands, United Kingdom. Compared to nonoutbreak isolates, bacilli had higher lipid contents and more hydrophobic cell surfaces. In macrophage infection models, the bacteria increased more rapidly, provoked the enhanced accumulation of macrophage lipid droplets and enhanced the secretion of IL-1b. Natural deletions in fadB4, nrdB, and plcC distinguished the outbreak isolates from other lineage 3 isolates in the region. fadB4 is annotated with a putative role in cell envelope biosynthesis, so the loss of this gene has the potential to alter the interactions of bacteria with immune cells. Reintroduction of fadB4 to the outbreak strain led to a phenotype that more closely resembled those of nonoutbreak strains. The improved understanding of the microbiological characteristics and the corresponding genetic polymorphisms that associate with outbreaks have the potential to inform tuberculosis control. IMPORTANCE Tuberculosis (TB) killed 1.5 million people in 2020 and affects every country. The extent to which the natural genetic diversity of Mycobacterium tuberculosis influences disease manifestation at both the individual and epidemiological levels remains poorly understood. Insights into how pathogen polymorphisms affect patterns of TB have the potential to translate into clinical and public health practice. Two distinct lineage 3 strains isolated from local TB outbreaks, one of which (CH) was rapidly terminated and the other of which (Lro) persistently transmitted for over a decade, provided us with an opportunity to study these issues. We compared genome sequences, microbiological characteristics, and early immune responses that were evoked upon infection. Our results indicate that the natural lack of fadB4 in the Lro strain contributes to its unique features.
Author affiliationDepartment of Respiratory Sciences, University of Leicester
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