Effects of overexpression of the alkyl hydroperoxide reductase AhpC on the virulence and isoniazid resistance of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Mutations to the regulatory region of the ahpC gene, resulting in overproduction of alkyl hydroperoxide reductase, were encountered frequently in a large collection of isoniazid (INH)-resistant clinical isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis but not in INH-susceptible strains. Overexpression of ahpC did not seem to be important for INH resistance, however, as most of these strains were already defective for catalase-peroxidase, KatG, the enzyme required for activation of INH. Transformation of the INH-susceptible reference strain, M. tuberculosis H37Rv, with plasmids bearing the ahpC genes of M. tuberculosis or M. leprae did not result in a significant increase in the MIC. Two highly INH-resistant mutants of H37Rv, BH3 and BH8, were isolated in vitro and shown to produce no or little KatG activity and, in the case of BH3, to overproduce alkyl hydroperoxide reductase as the result of an ahpC regulatory mutation that was also found in some clinical isolates. The virulence of H37Rv, BH3, and BH8 was studied intensively in three mouse models: fully immunocompetent BALB/c and Black 6 mice, BALB/c major histocompatibility complex class II-knockout mice with abnormally low levels of CD4 T cells and athymic mice producing no cellular immune response. The results indicated that M. tuberculosis strains producing catalase-peroxidase were considerably more virulent in immunocompetent mice than the isogenic KatG-deficient mutants but that loss of catalase-peroxidase was less important when immunodeficient mice, unable to produce activated macrophages, were infected. Restoration of virulence was not seen in an INH-resistant M. tuberculosis strain that overexpressed ahpC, and this finding was confirmed by experiments performed with appropriate M. bovis strains in guinea pigs. Thus, in contrast to catalase-peroxidase, alkyl hydroperoxide reductase does not appear to act as a virulence factor in rodent infections or to play a direct role in INH resistance, although it may be important in maintaining peroxide homeostasis of the organism when KatG activity is low or absent.