Background: The potential causes for variation in virulence between distinct M. tuberculosis strains are still not fully known. However, differences in protein expression are probably an important factor. In this study we used a label-free quantitative proteomic approach to estimate differences in protein abundance between two closely related M. tuberculosis strains; the virulent H37Rv strain and its attenuated counterpart H37Ra.
Results: We were able to identify more than 1700 proteins from both strains. As expected, the majority of the identified proteins had similar relative abundance in the two strains. However, 29 membrane-associated proteins were observed with a 5 or more fold difference in their relative abundance in one strain compared to the other. Of note, 19 membrane- and lipo-proteins had higher abundance in H37Rv, while another 10 proteins had a higher abundance in H37Ra. Interestingly, the possible protein-export membrane protein SecF (Rv2586c), and three ABC-transporter proteins (Rv0933, Rv1273c and Rv1819c) were among the more abundant proteins in M. tuberculosis H37Rv.
Conclusion: Our data suggests that the bacterial secretion system and the transmembrane transport system may be important determinants of the ability of distinct M. tuberculosis strains to cause disease.