Treatment of Mycobacterium abscessus Pulmonary Disease

Chest. 2022 Jan;161(1):64-75. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2021.07.035. Epub 2021 Jul 24.


Mycobacterium abscessus is the second most common nontuberculous mycobacterial lung disease pathogen and comprises three subspecies: abscessus, massiliense, and bolletii. Subspecies identification is critical for disease management, as subspecies abscessus and bolletii have an inducible macrolide resistance gene [erm(41)] that results in clinical macrolide resistance. In contrast, subspecies massiliense does not have an active erm(41) gene and is therefore susceptible in vitro and clinically to macrolide-containing regimens. M abscessus is also vulnerable to acquired mutational macrolide resistance. Macrolide resistance has such a profoundly negative impact on M abscessus treatment response that preserving macrolide susceptibility with adequate companion drugs for macrolides is among the highest treatment priorities. After the macrolides, amikacin is regarded as the next most important drug for M abscessus treatment, although data validating that assertion are lacking. The considerations for preventing acquired macrolide resistance also apply to amikacin. Recent guidelines suggest that treatment should be guided by in vitro susceptibilities but, aside from macrolides and amikacin, no other antibiotics have a validated minimum inhibitory concentration for M abscessus. Currently, phase therapy (intensive and continuation) is recommended for M abscessus. This approach is successful with macrolide-susceptible M abscessus but not with macrolide-resistant M abscessus, in which even more aggressive therapy is not predictably successful. Newer drugs have become available, with encouraging in vitro activity against M abscessus, but in vivo validation of their superiority to current agents is not yet available. In the absence of unequivocally effective regimens, we offer suggestions for managing this treatment-refractory organism.

Keywords: Mycobacterium abscessus; Mycobacterium massiliense; amikacin; erm gene; macrolide.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amikacin / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Management
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics
  • Humans
  • Macrolides / therapeutic use*
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / drug therapy*
  • Mycobacterium abscessus / genetics
  • Mycobacterium abscessus / pathogenicity*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / drug therapy*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Macrolides
  • Amikacin