Bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells provide an antibiotic-protective niche for persistent viable Mycobacterium tuberculosis that survive antibiotic treatment
During tuberculosis (TB), some Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacilli persist in the presence of an active immunity and antibiotics that are used to treat the disease. Herein, by using the Cornell model of TB persistence, we further explored our recent finding that suggested that M. tuberculosis can escape therapy by residing in the bone marrow (BM) mesenchymal stem cells. We initially showed that M. tuberculosis rapidly disseminates to the mouse BM after aerosol exposure and maintained a stable burden for at least 220 days. In contrast, in the lungs, the M. tuberculosis burden peaked at 28 days and subsequently declined approximately 10-fold. More important, treatment of the mice with the antibiotics rifampicin and isoniazid, as expected, resulted in effective clearance of M. tuberculosis from the lungs and spleen. In contrast, M. tuberculosis persisted, albeit at low numbers, in the BM of antibiotic-treated mice. Moreover, most viable M. tuberculosis was recovered from the bone marrow CD271(+)CD45(-)-enriched cell fraction, and only few viable bacteria could be isolated from the CD271(-)CD45(+) cell fraction. These results clearly show that BM mesenchymal stem cells provide an antibiotic-protective niche for M. tuberculosis and suggest that unraveling the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon will enhance our understanding of M. tuberculosis persistence in treated TB patients.