Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome contains four related sets of an operon called mce (mce1-4). The disruption of one of these operons, mce1, causes M. tuberculosis to become hypervirulent, whereas the mce3 and mce4 operon mutants are attenuated in mice. This study examined the phenotype of the mce2 operon mutant. The deletion of mce2 operon in M. tuberculosis H37Rv had no effect on bacterial growth in 7H9 liquid broth or survival within macrophages. However, RAW macrophage-like cells infected with the mutant strain were reduced in their ability to produce TNF-alpha, IL-6 and MCP-1. In C57BL/6 mouse lungs, the mce2 operon mutant and wild type H37Rv replicated similarly up to 20 weeks of infection. However, by 56 weeks of infection, all mice infected with the wild type H37Rv had died, while 80% of those infected with the mutant remained alive (P<0.0001). The proportion of affected lung parenchyma in mice infected with the mutant was substantially less than that of mice infected with the wild type for the same time periods of infection. These observations suggest that the mce2 operon mutant is attenuated, and that this attenuation is related not to the bacterial burden but to the mutant's decreased ability to elicit a type of immune response and lung pathology detrimental to the survival of the animal.