Evolution of Mycobacterium abscessus in the human lung: Cumulative mutations and genomic rearrangement of porin genes in patient isolates

Virulence. 2023 May 23;2215602. doi: 10.1080/21505594.2023.2215602. Online ahead of print.


Background: Mycobacterium abscessus subspecies massiliense (M. massiliense) is increasingly recognized as an emerging bacterial pathogen, particularly in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients and CF centers' respiratory outbreaks. We characterized genomic and phenotypic changes in 15 serial isolates from two CF patients (1S and 2B) with chronic pulmonary M. massiliense infection leading to death, as well as four isolates from a CF center outbreak in which patient 2B was the index case.

Results: Comparative genomic analysis revealed the mutations affecting growth rate, metabolism, transport, lipids (loss of glycopeptidolipids), antibiotic susceptibility (macrolides and aminoglycosides resistance), and virulence factors. Mutations in 23S rRNA, mmpL4, porin locus and tetR occurred in isolates from both CF patients.Interestingly, we identified two different spontaneous mutation events at the mycobacterial porin locus: a fusion of two tandem porin paralogs in patient 1S and a partial deletion of the first porin paralog in patient 2B. These genomic changes correlated with reduced porin protein expression, diminished 14C-glucose uptake, slower bacterial growth rates, and enhanced TNF-α induction in mycobacteria-infected THP-1 human cells. Porin gene complementation of porin mutants partly restored 14C-glucose uptake, growth rate and TNF-α levels to those of intact porin strains.

Conclusions: We hypothesize that specific mutations accumulated and maintained over time in M. massiliense, including mutations shared among transmissible strains, collectively lead to more virulent, host adapted lineages in CF patients and other susceptible hosts.

Keywords: 16S rRNA (rrs); 23S rRNA (rrl); Mycobacterium abscessus; Mycobacterium massiliense; Porin; Single nucleotide polymorphisms; cystic fibrosis; gene complementation; immune response; nontuberculous mycobacteria; whole genome sequencing.