Filterable forms and L-forms of Mycobacterium bovis BCG: impact for live vaccine features

Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2012 Jun;8(6):759-64. doi: 10.4161/hv.19698. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


Bacterial L-form conversion, or existence without cell walls, is assumed a universal phenomenon in nature. An interesting aspect of this phenomenon is occurrence of L-forms in vaccine strains. Since BCG is currently a widely used and extensively studied live vaccine for tuberculosis, understanding L-form conversion of M. bovis BCG bacilli can provide new insight into behavior of BCG vaccine. In this respect, specific features, concerning the ability of BCG vaccine to produce viable filterable forms and L-forms, were studied by filtration and starvation stress experiments in vitro. The filterable forms obtained after filtration of BCG suspension, grew on Middlebrook 7H9 semisolid agar and formed typical "fried eggs" L-form colonies. Electron microscopy clearly demonstrated presence of L-form elements with size smaller than the size of bacterial filter pores of 0.2 µm in M. bovis BCG strains. Development of L-form subpopulation with typical morphological appearance of self-replicating cell wall-defective forms was observed after filtration, as well as after starvation stress. Specific DNA detection of pncA gene in derived L-form cultures from filterable and stressed BCG strains verified their identity as M. bovis BCG. In conclusion, the results confirm existence of filterable forms in commercial BCG vaccine, which are able to develop L-form population under appropriate conditions. L-form transformation of BCG bacilli displays a new intriguing aspect concerning exhibition of unusual features and atypical behavior of live BCG vaccine. Further research is requested to explore the influence of L-form phenomenon on BCG vaccine effects in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • BCG Vaccine / immunology*
  • L Forms / genetics
  • L Forms / immunology*
  • L Forms / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Mycobacterium bovis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium bovis / immunology*
  • Mycobacterium bovis / ultrastructure


  • BCG Vaccine