The influence of reduced oxygen availability on pathogenicity and gene expression in Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Joanna Bacon*, Brian W. James, Lorenz Wernisch, Ann Williams, Kim A. Morley, Graham J. Hatch, Joseph A. Mangan, Jason Hinds, Neil G. Stoker, Philip D. Butcher, Philip D. Marsh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated how Mycobacterium tuberculosis responded to a reduced oxygen tension in terms of its pathogenicity and gene expression by growing cells under either aerobic or low-oxygen conditions in chemostat culture. The chemostat enabled us to control and vary the oxygen tension independently of other environmental parameters, so that true cause-and-effect relationships of reduced oxygen availability could be established. Cells grown under low oxygen were more pathogenic for guinea pigs than those grown aerobically. The effect of reduced oxygen on global gene expression was determined using DNA microarray. Spearman rank correlation confirmed that microarray expression profiles were highly reproducible between repeat cultures. Using microarray analysis we have identified genes that respond to a low-oxygen environment without the influence of other parameters such as nutrient depletion. Some of these genes appear to be involved in the biosynthesis of cell wall precursors and their induction may have contributed to increased infectivity in the guinea pig. This study has shown that a combination of chemostat culture and microarray presents a biologically robust and statistically reliable experimental approach for studying the effect of relevant and specific environmental stimuli on mycobacterial virulence and gene expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-217
Number of pages13
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Department of Health, UK. The views expressed in the publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Department of Health. The authors acknowledge the multi-collaborative bacterial microarray group at St George's (BuG@S: ) 37 , which is supported by the Wellcome Trust Functional Genomics Resource Initiative. The authors express their gratitude to Dr. Paul Wheeler and Dr. Lisa Keating (VLA) for their help with the biochemical interpretation of the data.


  • Chemostat culture
  • Iron
  • Methylmalonyl-CoA
  • Microarray
  • Oxygen
  • Tuberculosis


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