Development of new molecular genetic tools to study "Mycobacterium ulcerans" infection (Buruli ulcer)

Rondini, Simona. Development of new molecular genetic tools to study "Mycobacterium ulcerans" infection (Buruli ulcer). 2005, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_7214

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Buruli ulcer is an infectious disease caused by an environmental pathogen, Mycobacterium
ulcerans, which is the third major mycobacterial pathogen of man, after M. tuberculosis and
M. leprae. Since 1980, dramatic increases in the incidence of Buruli ulcer have been reported
from West African countries, sometimes associated with man-made environmental changes.
After the first international conference on Buruli ulcer in 1998 (Yamoussoukro meeting),
attention has been drawn to the severity of this neglected disease and to its many poorly
understood features. Since then new initiatives have been undertaken to promote control and
research efforts. Within the framework of WHO identified research priorities, the present PhD
project focused on the development of new molecular genetic tools to investigate M. ulcerans
epidemiology and pathology.
Apart from the association of Buruli ulcer with swampy environments, little is known about
risk factors, environmental reservoirs and pathways of transmission. One factor that impairs
research on these issues is the lack of suitable fine typing methods to track different M.
ulcerans subclones and their spreading within a community. The comprehension of the
population structure itself and of the mechanisms leading to genetic variability also suffers
from this lack of tools. For this reason, we developed a new plasmid-based microarray
approach, which was used to perform a comparative genomic analysis of 30 M. ulcerans
strains, from different geographical origins. Fifteen large sequence polymorphisms were
identified affecting genes of all major functional categories. Results obtained with this
prototype microarray demonstrated that insertional/deletional events, often associated with
insertion sequences are the most important mechanisms of genetic diversification in M.
ulcerans. Analysis of strain diversity with a larger microarray should represent a suitable tool
for micro-epidemiological studies.
Within the framework of a Buruli ulcer survey in Cameroon, an optimized diagnostic PCR
was developed. The method, operating on genetic material extracted directly from swab
samples, demonstrated the usefulness of such highly sensitive technique for epidemiological
studies. Neglected Buruli ulcer foci have been rediscovered and an association between Buruli
ulcer cases and slow flowing water basins have been reconfirmed.
A quantitative PCR specific for M. ulcerans DNA, the IS2404 real-time PCR, was developed
with the aim to gain insights into the pathology of the disease. The very high sensitivity and
specificity of the method allowed the quantitative assessment of the dissemination of the
mycobacteria in Buruli ulcer lesions, and its comparison with histopathological changes.
Although the heaviest mycobacterial burden was detected in the central foci of the lesions, we
could measure significant amounts of mycobacterial DNA and microcolonies in samples from
peripheral regions and occasionally in healthy appearing excised tissue margins. Additional
peaks of mycobacterial DNA clearly marked sites where satellite lesions were developing.
Even when granulomas provided evidence for the development of cell-mediated immunity,
development of satellite lesions by contiguous spreading was not completely prevented. The
technique offers also the potential to predict recurrences: in one case we could demonstrate
that a relatively small number of mycobacteria that have spread into healthy appearing tissue
can lead to the development of a recrudescence. These data altogether support the concept that
wider surgical excision improves the chance of healing of Buruli ulcer. The application of our
approach for assessing the mycobacterial burden in excision margins, combined with long
term follow-up of patients, should help to improve current guidelines for surgical treatment of
Buruli ulcer.
It is becoming more and more evident that mycobacterial spreading can occur even at distant
sites from the original primary ulcer, producing so called “metastatic lesions”. The
contribution of re-activation versus re-infection is not clear, neither is the mode of spreading
into the body known. In the case of a HIV+ patient, we could report the insurgence of
multifocal aggressive lesions leading to osteomyelitis. The time span interposing between the
primary Buruli manifestations and the recurrence at the new sites, together with the physical
distance of the patient from the endemic area, is such to argue about eventual persistence of
M. ulcerans in an immunocompromised individual.
Advisors:Weiss, Niklaus
Committee Members:Erb, Peter and Pluschke, Gerd
Faculties and Departments:09 Associated Institutions > Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) > Former Units within Swiss TPH > Cultural Epidemiology (Weiss)
UniBasel Contributors:Pluschke, Gerd
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:7214
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:169
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:22 Jan 2018 15:50
Deposited On:13 Feb 2009 15:14

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