• Open Access

Diversion of phagosome trafficking by pathogenic Rhodococcus equi depends on mycolic acid chain length


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Rhodococcus equi is a close relative of Mycobacterium spp. and a facultative intracellular pathogen which arrests phagosome maturation in macrophages before the late endocytic stage. We have screened a transposon mutant library of R. equi for mutants with decreased capability to prevent phagolysosome formation. This screen yielded a mutant in the gene for β-ketoacyl-(acyl carrier protein)-synthase A (KasA), a key enzyme of the long-chain mycolic acid synthesizing FAS-II system. The longest kasA mutant mycolic acid chains were 10 carbon units shorter than those of wild-type bacteria. Coating of non-pathogenic E. coli with purified wild-type trehalose dimycolate reduced phagolysosome formation substantially which was not the case with shorter kasA mutant-derived trehalose dimycolate. The mutant was moderately attenuated in macrophages and in a mouse infection model, but was fully cytotoxic.Whereas loss of KasA is lethal in mycobacteria, R. equi kasA mutant multiplication in broth was normal proving that long-chain mycolic acid compounds are not necessarily required for cellular integrity and viability of the bacteria that typically produce them. This study demonstrates a central role of mycolic acid chain length in diversion of trafficking by R. equi.