Interaction between mycobacteria and mucus on a human respiratory tissue organ culture model with an air interface

A. M. Middleton, M. V. Chadwick, A. G. Nicholson, R. Wilson, D. J. Thornton, Sara Kirkham, J. K. Sheehan

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    Mycobacteria adhere specifically to extracellular matrix (ECM) and mucus with a fibrous, but not globular, appearance, in organ cultures of human respiratory mucosa examined by scanning electron microscopy. Previously, light microscopy sections made of tissue infected for 7 days demonstrated mycobacteria associated with mucus on the organ culture surface, and within submucosal glands in areas of damaged epithelium. The authors have now investigated the interactions between Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB), and Mycobacterium smegmatis (MS) and mucus by preincubating bacteria with purified mucins MUC5AC and MUC5B prior to inoculation onto the organ culture mucosal surface. They have also measured mucin production by the organ culture after mycobacterial infection. Mucus did not cause clumping of mycobacteria. There was a significant (P=.03) increase in the amount of fibrous mucus, but not globular mucus, observed on tissue inoculated with mucins compared to controls. The number of bacteria adhering to ECM was markedly reduced after incubation with mucins, which could indicate a protective effect. Mycobacterial infection did not increase mucin production by the organ culture. Mycobacterial adherence to mucins may play a role in the pathogenicity of mycobacteria in diseases such as cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in which there are changes in mucus composition and clearance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)17-29
    Number of pages12
    JournalExperimental lung research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2004


    • Bacterial adherence
    • Mucins
    • Mucus
    • Mycobacteria
    • Respiratory mucosa


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