Background: Antibiotic-tolerant bacterial persistence prevents treatment shortening in drug-susceptible tuberculosis, and accumulation of intracellular lipid bodies has been proposed to identify a persister phenotype of Mycobacterium tuberculosis cells. In Malawi, we modeled bacillary elimination rates (BERs) from sputum cultures and calculated the percentage of lipid body-positive acid-fast bacilli (%LB + AFB) on sputum smears. We assessed whether these putative measurements of persistence predict unfavorable outcomes (treatment failure/relapse).
Methods: Adults with pulmonary tuberculosis received standard 6-month therapy. Sputum samples were collected during the first 8 weeks for serial sputum colony counting (SSCC) on agar and time-to positivity (TTP) measurement in mycobacterial growth indicator tubes. BERs were extracted from nonlinear and linear mixed-effects models, respectively, fitted to these datasets. The %LB + AFB counts were assessed by fluorescence microscopy. Patients were followed until 1 year posttreatment. Individual BERs and %LB + AFB counts were related to final outcomes.
Results: One hundred and thirty-three patients (56% HIV coinfected) participated, and 15 unfavorable outcomes were reported. These were inversely associated with faster sterilization phase bacillary elimination from the SSCC model (odds ratio [OR], 0.39; 95% confidence interval [CI], .22-.70) and a faster BER from the TTP model (OR, 0.71; 95% CI, .55-.94). Higher %LB + AFB counts on day 21-28 were recorded in patients who suffered unfavorable final outcomes compared with those who achieved stable cure (P = .008).
Conclusions: Modeling BERs predicts final outcome, and high %LB + AFB counts 3-4 weeks into therapy may identify a persister bacterial phenotype. These methods deserve further evaluation as surrogate endpoints for clinical trials.
Keywords: clinical trials; lipid bodies; persistence; sterilizing activity; tuberculosis.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.