Characterization of rough and smooth morphotypes of Mycobacterium abscessus isolates from clinical specimens

J Clin Microbiol. 2014 Jan;52(1):244-50. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01249-13. Epub 2013 Nov 6.


Mycobacterium abscessus, which consists of the two subspecies M. abscessus subspecies abscessus and M. abscessus subspecies bolletii, can produce rough or smooth colony morphologies. Here we analyzed 50 M. abscessus isolates cultured from the respiratory specimens of 34 patients, 28 (82%) of whom had cystic fibrosis (CF), with respect to their colony morphologies and antibiotic susceptibilities. The overall proportions of occurrences of the two morphotypes were similar, with specimens from 50% of the patients showing a rough and 38% showing a smooth morphotype. A total of 12% of the specimens from the patients showed both morphotypes simultaneously. At the subspecies level, the proportions of rough and smooth morphotypes differed substantially; 88% of rough morphotypes belonged to M. abscessus subspecies abscessus, and 85% of smooth morphotypes belonged M. abscessus subspecies bolletii. Inducible clarithromycin resistance due to the Erm(41) methylase, as well as high-level resistance to clarithromycin due to mutations within the rrl gene, occurred independently of the morphotype. The MIC50s of amikacin and cefoxitin were identical for the two morphotypes, whereas the MIC50s of tigecycline were 0.25 μg/ml for the rough morphotype and 2.0 μg/ml for the smooth morphotype. Our results show that the smooth morphotype was more dominant in respiratory specimens from CF patients than previously thought. With respect to resistance, colony morphology did not affect the susceptibility of Mycobacterium abscessus to the first-line antibiotics clarithromycin, amikacin, and cefoxitin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mycobacterium / drug effects
  • Mycobacterium / growth & development
  • Mycobacterium / isolation & purification*
  • Mycobacterium / physiology*
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / microbiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents