Unique biological properties of Mycobacterium tuberculosis L-form variants: impact for survival under stress

Int Microbiol. 2012 Jun;15(2):61-8. doi: 10.2436/20.1501.01.159.


Bacteria can, under certain conditions, enter into a cell-less state known as L-form conversion. This phenomenon is universal, but also recognized with difficultly by microbiologists. The current study addresses several aspects concerning the ability of tubercle bacilli to use L-form conversion as a unique adaptive strategy to survive and reproduce under unfavorable conditions. Nutrient starvation of M. tuberculosis in vitro followed by passages in Middlebrook 7H9 semisolid medium was used for stress induction and the selective isolation of mycobacterial L-form variants. Light and electron microscopy images evidence the peculiar characteristics of mycobacterial L-forms. For example, mycobacterial L-forms were observed to lose their acid-fastness and change their morphology. In addition, wide morphological variability, the presence of large and elementary bodies, coccoids and small granular forms, as well as the appearance of unusual modes of irregular cell division were observed. Unlike classical tubercle bacilli, L-form variants grew and developed typical "fried-egg" colonies faster. L-forms were verified as M. tuberculosis by spoligotyping. The results provide insights into the nature of L-form phenomena in M. tuberculosis and link them to the mechanisms allowing mycobacterial survival under stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Intergenic / chemistry
  • DNA, Intergenic / genetics
  • Humans
  • L Forms / genetics
  • L Forms / growth & development
  • L Forms / physiology*
  • L Forms / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / growth & development
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / physiology*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / ultrastructure
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tuberculosis / microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Intergenic