Formation and resuscitation of 'non-culturable' cells of Rhodococcus rhodochrous and Mycobacterium tuberculosis in prolonged stationary phase

Galina V. Mukamolova, M. V. Telkov, K. Bagramyan, Michael Young, M. O. Shleeva, Arseny S. Kaprelyants, Douglas B. Kell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After growth of Rhodococcus rhodochrous in Sauton’s medium, and further incubation for about 60 h in stationary phase, there was a transient (up to 5 log) decrease in the c.f.u. count, whereas the total count remained similar to its initial value. At the point of minimal viability, the most probable number (MPN) count was 10 times greater than the c.f.u. count. This difference was further magnified by 3–4 logs (giving values close to the total count) by incorporating supernatant taken from growing cultures. A small protein similar to Rpf (resuscitation-promoting factor of Micrococcus luteus) appeared to be responsible for some of the activity in the culture supernatant. The formation of ‘non-culturable’ cells of the ‘Academia’ strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis was similarly observed following growth in Sauton’s medium containing Tween 80 in sealed culture vessels, and further incubation for an extended stationary phase. This resulted in the formation, 4–5 months post-inoculation, of a homogeneous population of ostensibly ‘non-culturable’ cells (zero c.f.u.). Remarkably, the MPN count for these cultures was 105 organisms ml-1, and this value was further increased by one log using supernatant from an actively growing culture. Populations of ‘non-culturable’ cells of Mycobacterium tuberculosis were also obtained by the filtration of ‘clumpy’ cultures, which were grown in the absence of Tween 80. These small cells could only be grown in liquid medium (MPN) and their viability was enhanced by the addition of culture supernatant or Rpf. The ‘non-culturable’ cells that accumulated during prolonged stationary phase in both the R. rhodochrous and the Mycobacterium tuberculosis cultures were small ovoid and coccoid forms with an intact permeability barrier, but with undetectable respiratory activity. The authors consider these non-culturable bacteria to be dormant. The observed activity of culture supernatants and Rpf with ‘non-culturable’ bacterial suspensions invites the speculation that one, or more, of the cognate Mycobacterium tuberculosis Rpf-like molecule(s) could be involved in mechanisms of latency and reactivation of tuberculosis in vivo.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1581-1591
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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