Mycobacterium abscessus is an emerging pathogen that is increasingly recognized as a relevant cause of human lung infection in cystic fibrosis patients. This highly antibiotic-resistant mycobacterium is an exception within the rapidly growing mycobacteria, which are mainly saprophytic and non-pathogenic organisms. M. abscessus manifests as either a smooth (S) or a rough (R) colony morphotype, which is of clinical importance as R morphotypes are associated with more severe and persistent infections. To better understand the molecular mechanisms behind the S/R alterations, we analysed S and R variants of three isogenic M. abscessus S/R pairs using an unbiased approach involving genome and transcriptome analyses, transcriptional fusions and integrating constructs. This revealed different small insertions, deletions (indels) or single nucleotide polymorphisms within the non-ribosomal peptide synthase gene cluster mps1-mps2-gap or mmpl4b in the three R variants, consistent with the transcriptional differences identified within this genomic locus that is implicated in the synthesis and transport of Glyco-Peptido-Lipids (GPL). In contrast to previous reports, the identification of clearly defined genetic lesions responsible for the loss of GPL-production or transport makes a frequent switching back-and-forth between smooth and rough morphologies in M. abscessus highly unlikely, which is important for our understanding of persistent M. abscessus infections.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.