Impact of Mycobacterium ulcerans biofilm on transmissibility to ecological niches and Buruli ulcer pathogenesis

PLoS Pathog. 2007 May 4;3(5):e62. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.0030062.


The role of biofilms in the pathogenesis of mycobacterial diseases remains largely unknown. Mycobacterium ulcerans, the etiological agent of Buruli ulcer, a disfiguring disease in humans, adopts a biofilm-like structure in vitro and in vivo, displaying an abundant extracellular matrix (ECM) that harbors vesicles. The composition and structure of the ECM differs from that of the classical matrix found in other bacterial biofilms. More than 80 proteins are present within this extracellular compartment and appear to be involved in stress responses, respiration, and intermediary metabolism. In addition to a large amount of carbohydrates and lipids, ECM is the reservoir of the polyketide toxin mycolactone, the sole virulence factor of M. ulcerans identified to date, and purified vesicles extracted from ECM are highly cytotoxic. ECM confers to the mycobacterium increased resistance to antimicrobial agents, and enhances colonization of insect vectors and mammalian hosts. The results of this study support a model whereby biofilm changes confer selective advantages to M. ulcerans in colonizing various ecological niches successfully, with repercussions for Buruli ulcer pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Biofilms*
  • Carbohydrates / analysis
  • Ecology
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Macrolides
  • Mice
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / transmission*
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans / chemistry*
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans / pathogenicity
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans / ultrastructure
  • Skin Ulcer / etiology*
  • Skin Ulcer / microbiology
  • Virulence Factors


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Macrolides
  • Virulence Factors
  • mycolactone