Nitrite produced by Mycobacterium tuberculosis in human macrophages in physiologic oxygen impacts bacterial ATP consumption and gene expression
Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
In high enough concentrations, such as produced by inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), reactive nitrogen species (RNS) can kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). Lesional macrophages in macaques and humans with tuberculosis express iNOS, and mice need iNOS to avoid succumbing rapidly to tuberculosis. However, Mtb's own ability to produce RNS is rarely considered, perhaps because nitrate reduction to nitrite is only prominent in axenic Mtb cultures at oxygen tensions ≤1%. Here we found that cultures of Mtb-infected human macrophages cultured at physiologic oxygen tensions produced copious nitrite. Surprisingly, the nitrite arose from the Mtb, not the macrophages. Mtb responded to nitrite by ceasing growth; elevating levels of ATP through reduced consumption; and altering the expression of 120 genes associated with adaptation to acid, hypoxia, nitric oxide, oxidative stress, and iron deprivation. The transcriptomic effect of endogenous nitrite was distinct from that of nitric oxide. Thus, whether or not Mtb is hypoxic, the host expresses iNOS, or hypoxia impairs the action of iNOS, Mtb in vivo is likely to encounter RNS by producing nitrite. Endogenous nitrite may slow Mtb's growth and prepare it to resist host stresses while the pathogen waits for immunopathology to promote its transmission.