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Nitrogen deprivation induces triacylglycerol accumulation, drug tolerance and hypervirulence in mycobacteria

Abstract : Mycobacteria share with other actinomycetes the ability to produce large quantities of triacylglycerol (tAG), which accumulate as intracytoplasmic lipid inclusions (ILI) also known as lipid droplets (LD). Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tb), the etiologic agent of tuberculosis, acquires fatty acids from the human host which are utilized to synthesize tAG, subsequently stored in the form of ILI to meet the carbon and nutrient requirements of the bacterium during long periods of persistence. However, environmental factors governing mycobacterial ILI formation and degradation remain poorly understood. Herein, we demonstrated that in the absence of host cells, carbon excess and nitrogen starvation promote tAG accumulation in the form of ILI in M. smegmatis and M. abscessus, used as surrogate species of M. tb. Based on these findings, we developed a simple and reversible in vitro model to regulate ILI biosynthesis and hydrolysis in mycobacteria. We also showed that tAG formation is tgs1 dependent and that lipolytic enzymes mediate TAG breakdown. Moreover, we confirmed that the nitrogen-deprived and ILI-rich phenotype was associated with an increased tolerance towards several drugs used for treating mycobacterial infections. Importantly, we showed that the presence of ILI substantially enhanced the bacterial burden and granuloma abundance in zebrafish embryos infected with lipid-rich M. abscessus as compared to embryos infected with lipid-poor M. abscessus, suggesting that ILI are actively contributing to mycobacterial virulence and pathogenesis. Upon infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tb), the causative agent of TB, less than 5% of infected people will progress towards active infection, whereas 95% remain classified as latently infected without any symptoms or signs of illness 1. In these asymptomatic individuals, bacteria persist within granulomatous lesions in a non-replicating or "dormant" state, from which they may reactivate to induce active TB. It is hypothesized that these persistent bacterial sub-populations are characterized by both low metabolic activity and the presence of large lipid droplets (LD), referred to as intracytoplasmic lipid inclusions (ILI) that are filled with triacylglycerol (TAG) 2,3. Interestingly, TAG synthesis is a conserved feature of several bacterial species belonging to the Actinobacteria phylum, consisting largely of soil dwelling bacteria and including the Mycobacterium genus 4-6. The accumulated TAG constitute a major source of carbon and energy, sustaining survival of intra-and extracellular mycobacteria, and is also directly linked to division arrest, loss of acid-fastness and to increased drug tolerance 7-11. In recent years, a large number of in vitro and ex vivo models have been developed to mimic the ILI-inducing environment encountered by mycobacteria within their hosts 12. It has been demonstrated that within differentiated foamy macrophages (FM), the TAG content of lipid bodies (LB) can be hydrolysed and processed by intraphagosomal mycobacteria, thus leading to the formation of ILI 2,7,8,13. Moreover, several studies have reported that ILI can also be synthesized by extracellular bacteria during stressful conditions and may be considered as a metabolic strategy employed by prokaryotic cells to survive under harsh environments 4,5,14,15. While mycobacterial ILI formation has been observed in slow-and fast-growing mycobacteria such as species from the M. tb complex 9,16-21 , M. leprae 22 ,
Keywords : Lipidomics Pathogens
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Pierre Santucci, Matt Johansen, Vanessa Point, Isabelle Poncin, Albertus Viljoen, et al.. Nitrogen deprivation induces triacylglycerol accumulation, drug tolerance and hypervirulence in mycobacteria. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2019, 9 (1), ⟨10.1038/s41598-019-45164-5⟩. ⟨hal-02276153⟩

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