Background: Bacteria can be selectively imaged in experimentally-infected animals using exogenously administered 1-(2′deoxy-2′- fluoro-β-D-arabinofuranosyl)-5- [125I]-iodouracil ([125I]-FIAU), a nucleoside analog substrate for bacterial thymidine kinase (TK). Our goal was to use this reporter and develop non-invasive methods to detect and localize Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Methodology/Principal Findings: We engineered a M. tuberculosis strain with chromosomally integrated bacterial TK under the control of hsp60 - a strong constitutive mycobacterial promoter. [125I]FIAU uptake, antimicrobial susceptibilities and in vivo growth characteristics were evaluated for this strain. Using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), M. tuberculosis Phsp60 TK strain was evaluated in experimentally-infected BALB/c and C3HeB/FeJ mice using the thigh inoculation or low-dose aerosol infection models. M. tuberculosis Phsp60 TK strain actively accumulated [125I]FIAU in vitro. Growth characteristics of the TK strain and susceptibility to common anti-tuberculous drugs were similar to the wild-type parent strain. M. tuberculosis Phsp60 TK strain was stable in vivo and SPECT imaging could detect and localize this strain in both animal models tested. Conclusion: We have developed a novel tool for non-invasive assessment of M. tuberculosis in live experimentally-infected animals. This tool will allow real-time pathogenesis studies in animal models of TB and has the potential to simplify preclinical studies and accelerate TB research.
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