Variable Virulence and Efficacy of BCG Vaccine Strains in Mice and Correlation With Genome Polymorphisms

Mol Ther. 2016 Feb;24(2):398-405. doi: 10.1038/mt.2015.216. Epub 2015 Dec 8.


Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), an attenuated strain of Mycobacterium bovis, is the only vaccine available for tuberculosis (TB) control. However, BCG is not an ideal vaccine and has two major limitations: BCG exhibits highly variable effectiveness against the development of TB both in pediatric and adult populations and can cause disseminated BCG disease in immunocompromised individuals. BCG comprises a number of substrains that are genetically distinct. Whether and how these genetic differences affect BCG efficacy remains largely unknown. In this study, we performed comparative analyses of the virulence and efficacy of 13 BCG strains, representing different genetic lineages, in SCID and BALB/c mice. Our results show that BCG strains of the DU2 group IV (BCG-Phipps, BCG-Frappier, BCG-Pasteur, and BCG-Tice) exhibit the highest levels of virulence, and BCG strains of the DU2 group II (BCG-Sweden, BCG-Birkhaug) are among the least virulent group. These distinct levels of virulence may be explained by strain-specific duplications and deletions of genomic DNA. There appears to be a general trend that more virulent BCG strains are also more effective in protection against Mycobacterium tuberculosis challenge. Our findings have important implications for current BCG vaccine programs and for future TB vaccine development.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • BCG Vaccine / therapeutic use
  • Chromosome Duplication
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, SCID
  • Mycobacterium bovis / classification
  • Mycobacterium bovis / genetics*
  • Mycobacterium bovis / pathogenicity*
  • Sequence Deletion
  • Survival Analysis
  • Tuberculosis / veterinary*
  • Virulence


  • BCG Vaccine