Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a natural mutant with an inactivated oxidative-stress regulatory gene: implications for sensitivity to isoniazid.
The systems participating in detoxification of reactive oxygen intermediates in Mycobacterium tuberculosis are believed to play a dual role in the biology of this highly adapted human pathogen: (i) they may contribute to the survival of this bacterium in the host; and (ii) alterations in the gene encoding catalase/peroxidase have been linked to this organism's resistance to the front-line antituberculosis drug isoniazid. These relationships prompted us to extend investigations of the oxidative-stress-response systems in M. tuberculosis by analysing the alkyl hydroperoxide reductase gene ahpC and its putative regulator oxyR. Surprisingly, the oxyR gene was found to be inactivated by multiple lesions in M. tuberculosis H37Rv. These alterations were observed in all M. tuberculosis strains tested, and in members of the M. tuberculosis complex: Mycobacterium bovis BCG, Mycobacterium africanum, and Mycobacterium microti. The corresponding region carrying these genes in Mycobacterium leprae, an organism not sensitive to isoniazid, has a complete oxyR gene divergently transcribed from ahpC. An increase in minimal inhibitory concentration for isoniazid was observed upon transformation of M. tuberculosis H37Rv with cosmids carrying the oxyR-ahpC region of M. leprae. In keeping with the observed inactivation of oxyR, transcriptional activity of the corresponding region in M. tuberculosis was an order of magnitude lower than that of the oxyR gene from M. leprae. While the loss of this putative regulator of oxidative-stress response in M. tuberculosis is paradoxical considering the fact that survival in host macrophages is regarded as a critical feature of this pathogen, it offers a partial explanation for the exquisite sensitivity of M. tuberculosis to isoniazid.