Dormant, non-replicating Mycobacterium tuberculosis H37Rv strain cultured in hypoxic conditions was used to infect THP-1 cells. CFUs counting, Kinyoun staining and electron microscopy showed that dormant bacilli infected THP-1 cells at a rate similar to replicating M. tuberculosis, but failed to grow during the first 6 days of infection.
The absence of growth was specific to the intracellular compartment, as demonstrated by efficient growth in liquid medium. Quantification of β-actin mRNA recovered from infected cells showed that, in contrast with log-phase bacteria, infection with dormant bacilli determined a reduced THP-1 cell death. Gene expression of intracellular non replicating bacteria showed a pattern typical of a dormant state. Intracellular dormant bacteria induced the activation of genes associated to a pro-inflammatory response in THP-1 cells. Though, higher levels of TNFα, IL-1β and IL-8 mRNAs compared to aerobic H37Rv infected cells were not paralleled by increased cytokine accumulation in the supernatants. Moreover, dormant bacilli induced a higher expression of inducible cox-2 gene, accompanied by increased PGE2 secretion. Overall, study data describe a new model of in vitro infection using dormant M. tuberculosis that could provide the basis for understanding how non-replicating bacilli survive intracellularly and influence the maintenance of the hypoxic granuloma.