Precise null deletion mutations of the mycothiol synthesis genes reveal their role in isoniazid and ethionamide resistance in Mycobacterium smegmatis

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2011 Jul;55(7):3133-9. doi: 10.1128/AAC.00020-11. Epub 2011 Apr 18.


Mycothiol (MSH; AcCys-GlcN-Ins) is the glutathione analogue for mycobacteria. Mutations in MSH biosynthetic genes have been associated with resistance to isoniazid (INH) and ethionamide (ETH) in mycobacteria, but rigorous genetic studies are lacking, and those that have been conducted have yielded different results. In this study, we constructed independent null deletion mutants for all four genes involved in the MSH biosynthesis pathway (mshA, mshB, mshC, and mshD) in Mycobacterium smegmatis and made complementing constructs in integrating plasmids. The resulting set of strains was analyzed for levels of MSH, INH resistance, and ETH resistance. The mshA and mshC single deletion mutants were devoid of MSH production and resistant to INH, whereas the mshB deletion mutant produced decreased levels of MSH yet was sensitive to INH, suggesting that MSH biosynthesis is essential for INH susceptibility in M. smegmatis. Further evidence supporting this conclusion was generated by deleting the gene encoding the MSH S-conjugate amidase (mca) from the ΔmshB null mutant. This double mutant, ΔmshB Δmca, completely abolished MSH production and was resistant to INH. The mshA, mshC, and mshB single deletion mutants were also resistant to ETH, indicating that ETH resistance is modulated by the level of MSH in M. smegmatis. Surprisingly, the mshD deletion mutant lacked MSH production but was sensitive to both INH and ETH. The drug sensitivity was likely mediated by the compensated synthesis of N-formyl-Cys-GlcN-Ins, previously demonstrated to substitute for MSH in an mshD mutant of M. smegmatis. We conclude that MSH or N-formyl-Cys-GlcN-Ins is required for susceptibility to INH or ETH in M. smegmatis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antitubercular Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Cysteine / biosynthesis*
  • Cysteine / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple, Bacterial / genetics
  • Ethionamide / pharmacology*
  • Glycopeptides / biosynthesis*
  • Glycopeptides / genetics
  • Inositol / biosynthesis*
  • Inositol / genetics
  • Isoniazid / pharmacology*
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / drug effects*
  • Mycobacterium smegmatis / genetics*
  • Sequence Deletion


  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Glycopeptides
  • mycothiol
  • Inositol
  • Cysteine
  • Ethionamide
  • Isoniazid