• guinea pig;
  • Mycobacterium ulcerans;
  • ultraviolet rays

Background:  Ultraviolet radiation (UV) pre-exposure enhances intracellular mycobacterial infections, however, its effect upon the pathogenesis of the extracellular Mycobacterium ulcerans parasite had not been previously examined. The hypothesis tested was that UV pre-exposure enhances both the nodular and ulcerative forms of M. ulcerans infection in the Crl:IAF(HA)-hrBR hairless guinea pig.

Methods:  Groups of five animals were exposed to total cumulative UV doses of 0 (control), 3 or 30 kJ/m2 followed 3 days later by subcutaneous infection with 3 × 104 CFU of M. ulcerans in order to induce the nodular form of the disease. The resultant nodules were then measured for the next 22 days. The experiment was then repeated using intradermal infection with 2 × 106 CFU in order to induce the ulcerative form of the disease. The resultant ulcers were measured for the next 30 days. In both experiments, the animals were tested for delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactivity to Burulin-S as a marker of the onset of the reactive phase of the disease.

Results:  Following low inoculum subcutaneous infection, distinct, well-demarcated, subcutaneously situated skin nodules were present at infected skin sites between 7 and 22 days post-infection. Between days 14 and 21, the mean nodule diameters of the UV irradiated groups were significantly (P < 0.03) greater than that of the control group. UV pre-exposure resulted in significant (P < 0.035) suppression of DTH responses to Burulin-S challenge. High inoculum intradermal infection resulted in the development of ulcerative lesions. Between 10 and 30 days post-infection, the mean lesion diameters and mean ulcer development times of UV irradiated groups were significantly (P < 0.05) greater than those of the controls. However, UV irradiation did not affect DTH responses to Burulins in the high inoculum experiment. In both experiments, the lesions were histologically consistent with human Buruli ulcer disease. These results demonstrate that UV pre-exposure results in enhanced M. ulcerans infection in the hairless guinea pig model of Buruli ulcer disease and suggest that UV exposure may be a relevant factor in the pathogenesis of human forms of the disease.