Malachite Green Interferes with Postantibiotic Recovery of Mycobacteria
The genus Mycobacterium comprises slow-growing species with generation times ranging from hours to weeks. The protracted incubation time before colonies appear on solid culture medium can result in overgrowth by faster-growing microorganisms. To prevent contamination, the solid media used in laboratories and clinics for cultivation of mycobacteria contain the arylmethane compound malachite green, which has broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity. Malachite green has no impact on the plating efficiency of mycobacteria when cells are grown under normal conditions. However, we found that malachite green interfered with colony formation when bacteria were preexposed to antibiotics targeting cell wall biogenesis (isoniazid, ethionamide, ethambutol). This inhibitory effect of malachite green was not observed when bacteria were preexposed to antibiotics targeting cellular processes other than cell wall biogenesis (rifampin, moxifloxacin, streptomycin). Sputum specimens from tuberculosis patients are routinely evaluated on solid culture medium containing high concentrations of malachite green. This practice could lead to underestimation of bacterial loads and overestimation of chemotherapeutic efficacy.