Little is known about the physiology of latent Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. We studied the mutational rates of 24 index tuberculosis (TB) cases and their latently infected household contacts who developed active TB up to 5.25 years later, as an indication of bacterial physiological state and possible generation times during latent TB infection in humans. Here we report that the rate of new mutations in the M. tuberculosis genome decline dramatically after two years of latent infection (two-sided p < 0.001, assuming an 18 h generation time equal to log phase M. tuberculosis, with latency period modeled as a continuous variable). Alternatively, assuming a fixed mutation rate, the generation time increases over the latency duration. Mutations indicative of oxidative stress do not increase with increasing latency duration suggesting a lack of host or bacterial derived mutational stress. These results suggest that M. tuberculosis enters a quiescent state during latency, decreasing the risk for mutational drug resistance and increasing generation time, but potentially increasing bacterial tolerance to drugs that target actively growing bacteria.
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being