Human granuloma in vitro model, for TB dormancy and resuscitation

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53657. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053657. Epub 2013 Jan 7.


Tuberculosis (TB) is responsible for death of nearly two million people in the world annually. Upon infection, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) causes formation of granuloma where the pathogen goes into dormant state and can live for decades before resuscitation to develop active disease when the immune system of the host is weakened and/or suppressed. In an attempt to better understand host-pathogen interactions, several groups have been developing in vitro models of human tuberculosis granuloma. However, to date, an in vitro granuloma model in which Mtb goes into dormancy and can subsequently resuscitate under conditions that mimic weakening of the immune system has not been reported. We describe the development of a biomimetic in vitro model of human tuberculosis granuloma using human primary leukocytes, in which the Mtb exhibited characteristics of dormant mycobacteria as demonstrated by (1) loss of acid-fastness, (2) accumulation of lipid bodies (3) development of rifampicin-tolerance and (4) gene expression changes. Further, when these micro granulomas were treated with immunosuppressant anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha monoclonal antibodies (anti-TNFα mAbs), resuscitation of Mtb was observed as has been found in humans. In this human in vitro granuloma model triacylglycerol synthase 1deletion mutant (Δtgs1) with impaired ability to accumulate triacylglycerides (TG), but not the complemented mutant, could not go into dormancy. Deletion mutant of lipY, with compromised ability to mobilize the stored TG, but not the complemented mutant, was unable to come out of dormancy upon treatment with anti-TNFα mAbs. In conclusion, we have developed an in vitro human tuberculosis granuloma model that largely exhibits functional features of dormancy and resuscitation observed in human tuberculosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibiotics, Antitubercular / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / pharmacology
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression
  • Granuloma / immunology
  • Granuloma / microbiology*
  • Granuloma / pathology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Latent Tuberculosis / microbiology*
  • Lipase / deficiency
  • Lipase / genetics*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Mutation
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / drug effects
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / genetics
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / metabolism*
  • Rifampin / pharmacology
  • Triglycerides / metabolism
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Antibiotics, Antitubercular
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Triglycerides
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Lipase
  • Rifampin