Molecular evidence of endogenous reactivation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis after 33 years of latent infection

J Infect Dis. 2002 Feb 1;185(3):401-4. doi: 10.1086/338342. Epub 2002 Jan 17.


Since Robert Koch described the cause of tuberculosis in 1882, the natural history of the disease after primary infection has been subject to debate. Only approximately 10% of infected individuals develop active disease, which may appear years to decades after infection. Late onset has been attributed to the endogenous reactivation of dormant bacteria. However, this has not been documented by molecular means for latencies of more than a few years. In Denmark, we have recently recultured 205 freeze-dried Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains obtained from 1961 through 1967. These "historical" strains are analyzed by DNA restriction fragment-length polymorphism testing, and their DNA patterns are compared with those of 4008 recently obtained clinical specimens. This has, surprisingly, yielded molecular evidence of M. tuberculosis reactivation after 33 years of latent infection. A father and son who developed tuberculosis in 1961 and in 1994, respectively, were the only patients infected with strains that share an identical DNA pattern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / classification
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / physiology*
  • Recurrence
  • Time Factors
  • Tuberculosis / etiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial