Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 29343644
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2018 01;115(5):E1002-E1011
Mycobacterium abscessus, a rapidly growing mycobacterium (RGM) and an opportunistic human pathogen, is responsible for a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations ranging from pulmonary to skin and soft tissue infections. This intracellular organism can resist the bactericidal defense mechanisms of amoebae and macrophages, an ability that has not been observed in other RGM. M. abscessus can up-regulate several virulence factors during transient infection of amoebae, thereby becoming more virulent in subsequent respiratory infections in mice. Here, we sought to identify the M. abscessus genes required for replication within amoebae. To this end, we constructed and screened a transposon (Tn) insertion library of an M. abscessus subspecies massiliense clinical isolate for attenuated clones. This approach identified five genes within the ESX-4 locus, which in M. abscessus encodes an ESX-4 type VII secretion system that exceptionally also includes the ESX conserved EccE component. To confirm the screening results and to get further insight into the contribution of ESX-4 to M. abscessus growth and survival in amoebae and macrophages, we generated a deletion mutant of eccB4 that encodes a core structural element of ESX-4. This mutant was less efficient at blocking phagosomal acidification than its parental strain. Importantly, and in contrast to the wild-type strain, it also failed to damage phagosomes and showed reduced signs of phagosome-to-cytosol contact, as demonstrated by a combination of cellular and immunological assays. This study attributes an unexpected and genuine biological role to the underexplored mycobacterial ESX-4 system and its substrates.