Virulence and immune response induced by Mycobacterium avium complex strains in a model of progressive pulmonary tuberculosis and subcutaneous infection in BALB/c mice

Infect Immun. 2013 Nov;81(11):4001-12. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00150-13. Epub 2013 Aug 19.


The genus Mycobacterium comprises more than 150 species, including important pathogens for humans which cause major public health problems. The vast majority of efforts to understand the genus have been addressed in studies with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The biological differentiation between M. tuberculosis and nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) is important because there are distinctions in the sources of infection, treatments, and the course of disease. Likewise, the importance of studying NTM is not only due to its clinical significance but also due to the mechanisms by which some species are pathogenic while others are not. Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) is the most important group of NTM opportunistic pathogens, since it is the second largest medical complex in the genus after the M. tuberculosis complex. Here, we evaluated the virulence and immune response of M. avium subsp. avium and Mycobacterium colombiense, using experimental models of progressive pulmonary tuberculosis and subcutaneous infection in BALB/c mice. Mice infected intratracheally with a high dose of MAC strains showed high expression of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and inducible nitric oxide synthase with rapid bacillus elimination and numerous granulomas, but without lung consolidation during late infection in coexistence with high expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines. In contrast, subcutaneous infection showed high production of the proinflammatory cytokines TNF-α and gamma interferon with relatively low production of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) or IL-4, which efficiently eliminate the bacilli but maintain extensive inflammation and fibrosis. Thus, MAC infection evokes different immune and inflammatory responses depending on the MAC species and affected tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mycobacterium Infections / immunology*
  • Mycobacterium Infections / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium avium Complex / immunology*
  • Mycobacterium avium Complex / pathogenicity*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II / biosynthesis
  • Skin / pathology
  • Tuberculosis, Cutaneous / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Cutaneous / microbiology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / microbiology


  • Cytokines
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nos2 protein, mouse