Infection and immunity

Region of difference 2 contributes to virulence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

PMID 20974821


Mycobacterium bovis BCG strains are live, attenuated vaccines generated through decades of in vitro passage. Because in vitro growth does not select for interaction with the host, it has been hypothesized that genetic loci lost from BCG code for virulence determinants that are dispensable for growth in the laboratory, as exemplified by Region of Difference 1 (RD1), which was lost during the original derivation of BCG between 1908 and 1921. Region of Difference 2 (RD2) was lost during the ongoing propagation of BCG between 1927 and 1931, a time that coincides with reports of the ongoing attenuation of the vaccine. In this study, RD2 has been disrupted in M. tuberculosis H37Rv to test whether its loss contributed to the further attenuation of BCG. The deletion of RD2 did not affect in vitro growth; in contrast, the mutant manifested a decrease in pulmonary and splenic bacterial burdens and reduced pathology in C57BL/6 mice at early time points. This attenuated phenotype was complemented by reintroducing the genes Rv1979c to Rv1982 (including mpt64) but not Rv1985c to Rv1986. In RAW 264.7 macrophages, H37Rv:ΔRD2 showed a decreased proliferation and impaired modulation of the host innate immune response; both observations were complemented with Rv1979c to Rv1982. To test the effect of RD2 disruption on innate immunity, Rag(-/-) mice were infected; H37Rv:ΔRD2 had increased survival times compared those of H37Rv. These findings support the notion that the safety profile of certain BCG vaccines stems from multiple attenuating mutations, with the RD2 deletion resulting in a less-virulent organism through the impaired bacterial manipulation of the host innate immune response.