Attenuation of and protection induced by a leucine auxotroph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Mary K. Hondalus, Stoyan Bardarov, Robert Russell, John Chan, William R. Jacobs, Barry R. Bloom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

242 Scopus citations


Attenuated mutants of Mycobacterium tuberculosis represent potential vaccine candidates for the prevention of tuberculosis. It is known that auxotrophs of a variety of bacteria are attenuated in vivo and yet provide protection against challenge with wild-type organisms. A leucine auxotroph of M. tuberculosis was created by allelic exchange, replacing wild-type leuD (Rv2987c), encoding isopropyl malate isomerase, with a mutant copy of the gene in which 359 bp had been deleted, creating a strain requiring exogenous leucine supplementation for growth in vitro. The frequency of reversion to prototrophy was <10-11. In contrast to wild-type M. tuberculosis, the ΔleuD mutant was unable to replicate in macrophages in vitro. Its attenuation in vivo and safety as a vaccine were established by the fact that it caused no deaths in immunodeficient SCID mice. Complementation of the mutant with wild-type leuD abolished the requirement for leucine supplementation and restored the ability of the strain to grow both in macrophages and in SCID mice, thus confirming that the attenuated phenotype was due to the ΔleuD mutation. As a test of the vaccine potential of the leucine auxotroph, immunocompetent BALB/c mice, susceptible to fatal infection with wild-type M. tuberculosis, were immunized with the ΔleuD mutant and subsequently challenged with virulent M. tuberculosis by both the intravenous and aerosol routes. A comparison group of mice was immunized with conventional Mycobacterium bovis BCG vaccine. Whereas all unvaccinated mice succumbed to intravenous infection within 15 weeks, mice immunized with either BCG or the ΔleuD mutant of M. tuberculosis exhibited enhanced and statistically equivalent survival curves. However, the leuD auxotroph was less effective than live BCG in reducing organ burdens and tissue pathology of mice challenged by either route. We conclude that attenuation and protection against M. tuberculosis challenge can be achieved with a leucine auxotroph and suggest that to induce optimal protection, attenuated strains of M. tuberculosis should persist long enough and be sufficiently metabolically active to synthesize relevant antigens for an extended period of time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2888-2898
Number of pages11
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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