Microscopic cords, a virulence-related characteristic of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, are also present in nonpathogenic mycobacteria

Esther Julián, Mónica Roldán, Alejandro Sánchez-Chardi, Oihane Astola, Gemma Agustí, Marina Luquin

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66 Citations (Scopus)


The aggregation of mycobacterial cells in a definite order, forming microscopic structures that resemble cords, is known as cord formation, or cording, and is considered a virulence factor in the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex and the species Mycobacterium marinum. In the 1950s, cording was related to a trehalose dimycolate lipid that, consequently, was named the cord factor. However, modern techniques of microbial genetics have revealed that cording can be affected by mutations in genes not directly involved in trehalose dimycolate biosynthesis. Therefore, questions such as "How does mycobacterial cord formation occur?" and "Which molecular factors play a role in cord formation?" remain unanswered. At present, one of the problems in cording studies is the correct interpretation of cording morphology. Using optical microscopy, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between cording and clumping, which is a general property of mycobacteria due to their hydrophobic surfaces. In this work, we provide a new way to visualize cords in great detail using scanning electron microscopy, and we show the first scanning electron microscopy images of the ultrastructure of mycobacterial cords, making this technique the ideal tool for cording studies. This technique has enabled us to affirm that nonpathogenic mycobacteria also form microscopic cords. Finally, we demonstrate that a strong correlation exists between microscopic cords, rough colonial morphology, and increased persistence of mycobacteria inside macrophages. Copyright © 2010, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1751-1760
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2010


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