Dissection of ESAT-6 system 1 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and impact on immunogenicity and virulence
The dedicated secretion system ESX-1 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis encoded by the extended RD1 region (extRD1) assures export of the ESAT-6 protein and its partner, the 10-kDa culture filtrate protein CFP-10, and is missing from the vaccine strains M. bovis BCG and M. microti. Here, we systematically investigated the involvement of each individual ESX-1 gene in the secretion of both antigens, specific immunogenicity, and virulence. ESX-1-complemented BCG and M. microti strains were more efficiently engulfed by bone-marrow-derived macrophages than controls, and this may account for the enhanced in vivo growth of ESX-1-carrying strains. Inactivation of gene pe35 (Rv3872) impaired expression of CFP-10 and ESAT-6, suggesting a role in regulation. Genes Rv3868, Rv3869, Rv3870, Rv3871, and Rv3877 encoding an ATP-dependent chaperone and translocon were essential for secretion of ESAT-6 and CFP-10 in contrast to ppe68 Rv3873 and Rv3876, whose inactivation did not impair secretion of ESAT-6. A strict correlation was found between ESAT-6 export and the generation of ESAT-6 specific T-cell responses in mice. Furthermore, ESAT-6 secretion and specific immunogenicity were almost always correlated with enhanced virulence in the SCID mouse model. Only loss of Rv3865 and part of Rv3866 did not affect ESAT-6 secretion or immunogenicity but led to attenuation. This suggests that Rv3865/66 represent a new virulence factor that is independent from ESAT-6 secretion. The present study has allowed us to identify new aspects of the extRD1 region of M. tuberculosis and to explore its role in the pathogenesis of tuberculosis.