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Bioluminscent Mycobacterium ulcerans, a tool to study host-pathogen interactions in a murine tail model of Buruli ulcer

By Till F. Omansen, Renee A. Marcsisin, Brendon Y. Chua, Weiguang Zeng, David C. Jackson, Jessica L. Porter, Ymkje Stienstra, Tjip S van der Werf, Timothy P. Stinear

Posted 03 Oct 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/434506

Buruli ulcer is a neglected tropical disease caused by infection with Mycobacterium ulcerans. In this study we used a previously reported strain of M. ulcerans, genetically engineered to constitutively produce bioluminescence, to follow the progression of Buruli ulcer in mice using an in-vivo imaging (IVIS®) system. We aimed to characterize a mouse tail infection model for pathogenesis, as well as for pre-clinical vaccine and drug development research for Buruli ulcer. Immune parameters, such as antibody titers and cytokine levels, were determined throughout the course of the infection and histology specimens were examined for comparison with human pathology. Nine out of ten (90%) BALB/c mice infected subcutaneously with 105 M. ulcerans JKD8049 (containing pMV306 hsp16+luxG13) exhibited light emission from the site of infection over the course of the experiment indicating M. ulcerans growth in-vivo. Five out of ten (50%) animals developed clinical signs of disease. Antibody titers were overall low and their onset was late, as measured by responses to both heterogenous (bacterial whole cell lysate) and single antigen (Hsp18) targets. IFN- γ, and IL-10 are reported to play a vital role in host control of Buruli ulcer and these cytokines were elevated in animals with pathology. For mice with advanced pathology, histology revealed clusters of acid-fast bacilli within subcutaneous tissue 300-400 μm beneath the epidermis of the tail, with macrophage infiltration and granuloma-formation resembling human Buruli ulcer. This study has shown the utility of using bioluminescent M. ulcerans and IVIS® in a mouse tail infection model to study Buruli ulcer infection.

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