Using bioluminescence to monitor treatment response in real time in mice with mycobacterium ulcerans infection

Tianyu Zhang, Si Yang Li, Paul Converse, Deepak V. Almeida, Jacques H. Grosset, Eric L. Nuermberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Mycobacterium ulcerans causes Buruli ulcer, a potentially disabling ulcerative skin disease. Only recently was antimicrobial therapy proven effective. Treatment for 2 months with rifampin plus streptomycin was first proposed after experiments in the mouse footpad model demonstrated bactericidal activity. This treatment is now considered the treatment of choice, although larger ulcers may require adjunctive surgery. Shorter, oral regimens are desired, but evaluating drug activity in mice is hampered by the very slow growth of M. ulcerans, which takes 3 months to produce countable colonies. We created a recombinant bioluminescent M. ulcerans strain expressing luxAB from Vibrio harveyi for real-time evaluation of antimicrobial effects in vivo. Mouse footpads were injected with wild-type M. ulcerans 1059 (WtMu) or the recombinant bioluminescent strain (rMu). Two weeks later, mice received rifampin plus streptomycin, kanamycin alone (to which rMu is resistant), or streptomycin alone for 4 weeks and were observed for footpad swelling (preventive model). Untreated controls and kanamycin-treated rMu-infected mice received rifampin plus streptomycin for 4 weeks after developing footpad swelling (curative model). Compared to WtMu, rMu exhibited similar growth and virulence in vivo and similar drug susceptibility. A good correlation was observed between luminescence (measured as relative light units) and number of viable bacteria (measured by CFU) in footpad homogenates. Proof of concept was also shown for serial real-time evaluation of drug activity in live mice. These results indicate the potential of bioluminescence as a real-time surrogate marker for viable bacteria in mouse footpads to accelerate the identification of new treatments for Buruli ulcer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-61
Number of pages6
JournalAntimicrobial agents and chemotherapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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