Objectives: Despite having potent activity against actively replicating Mycobacterium tuberculosis, isoniazid has very limited activity against dormant bacilli. In order to investigate the lack of bactericidal activity of this drug under conditions leading to mycobacterial dormancy, we studied the transcriptional pattern of M. tuberculosis in different physiological states following exposure to isoniazid.
Methods: Global gene expression analysis was used to study M. tuberculosis treated with isoniazid in dormancy models of nutrient depletion and progressive hypoxia in vitro, as well as in an in vivo hollow fibre model of dormancy. Mycobacterial expression of the drug's putative transcriptional signature was investigated by RT-PCR in each dormancy model, and during the early and chronic phases of infection in the mouse aerosol model. Transcriptional responses were correlated with the bactericidal activity of isoniazid in the respective models.
Results: A small group of genes directly relevant to the mechanism of action of isoniazid was confirmed to constitute a transcriptional signature of the drug, as differential regulation of these genes was abrogated in an isoniazid-resistant, katG-deficient M. tuberculosis strain following isoniazid exposure. Isoniazid-induced expression of this transcriptional signature was abolished in dormant bacilli which had acquired phenotypic tolerance to isoniazid, regardless of the specific conditions responsible for the induction of the dormancy phenotype. Quantitative RT-PCR revealed that expression of isoniazid-regulated genes (IRGs) is dramatically altered under conditions of nutrient depletion and progressive hypoxia in vitro. Although these IRGs are highly induced following drug exposure early in infection in the mouse hollow fibre and aerosol models, correlating with potent bactericidal activity of the drug, their expression levels are markedly diminished during late-stage infection in these two models, coinciding with the greatly reduced bactericidal activity of isoniazid against these organisms.
Conclusions: The reduced susceptibility of bacilli to the bactericidal drug isoniazid, as well as lack of expression of IRGs upon exposure to the drug, may be defining features of M. tuberculosis dormancy.