Recent studies suggest that baseline tuberculous sputum comprises a mixture of routinely culturable and differentially culturable tubercle bacteria (DCTB). The latter seems to be drug tolerant and dependent on resuscitation-promoting factors (Rpfs).
To further explore this, we assessed sputum from patients with tuberculosis for DCTB and studied the impact of exogenous culture filtrate (CF) supplementation ex vivo.
Sputum samples from adults with tuberculosis and HIV-1 and adults with no HIV-1 were used for most probable number (MPN) assays supplemented with CF and Rpf-deficient CF, to detect CF-dependent and Rpf-independent DCTB, respectively.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS
In 110 individuals, 19.1% harbored CF-dependent DCTB and no Rpf-independent DCTB. Furthermore, 11.8% yielded Rpf-independent DCTB with no CF-dependent DCTB. In addition, 53.6% displayed both CF-dependent and Rpf-independent DCTB, 1.8% carried CF-independent DCTB, and 13.6% had no DCTB. Sputum from individuals without HIV-1 yielded higher CF-supplemented MPN counts compared with counterparts with HIV-1. Furthermore, individuals with HIV-1 with CD4 counts greater than 200 cells/mm(3) displayed higher CF-supplemented MPN counts compared with participants with HIV-1 with CD4 counts less than 200 cells/mm(3). CF supplementation allowed for detection of mycobacteria in 34 patients with no culturable bacteria on solid media. Additionally, the use of CF enhanced detection of sputum smear-negative individuals.
These observations demonstrate a novel Rpf-independent DCTB population in sputum and reveal that reduced host immunity is associated with lower prevalence of CF-responsive bacteria. Quantification of DCTB in standard TB diagnosis would be beneficial because these organisms provide a putative biomarker to monitor treatment response and risk of disease recurrence.