A Pivotal Role for Mycobactin/mbtE in Growth and Adaptation of Mycobacterium abscessus

Mark Foreman, Ilana Kolodkin-Gal, Daniel Barkan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Mycobacterium abscessus is an emerging pathogen that critically depends on iron for growth and pathogenesis. The acquisition of iron in Mycobacterium tuberculosis is governed by siderophores called mycobactins, synthesized by the mbt gene cluster, but the role of this gene cluster in the adaption of M. abscessus to iron limitation is not characterized. We identified an M. abscessus Tn_mutant with interruption of the mbtE gene (MAB_2248c), a central component of mycobactin biosynthesis. We tested this isolate growth characteristic, dependency on supplements, and transcriptomic response, comparing it to the response of wild-type (WT) bacteria in iron-limiting conditions. We also compare the structure of the mbt gene cluster across several mycobacteria. The Tn_mbtE mutant had a substantial, but not absolute, growth defect, which was more substantial in iron-limited media. Supplementation with mycobactin-J, hemin, blood, and surprisingly, albumin, salvaged the poor growth. Similarly, secreted mature (carboxy)-mycobactins from WT bacteria rescued the Tn_mbtE mutant during iron deprivation. The transcriptomic response of the Tn_mbtE mutant involved the upregulation of genes known to be implicated in iron homeostasis and was comparable to that of WT bacteria grown in iron-limiting conditions. Interestingly, the response was not identical to the response of M. tuberculosis to iron limitation. The mbt gene cluster and mycobactins play important roles in the physiology of M. abscessus. (Carboxy)-mycobactin is secreted from WT bacteria and can serve as “public good.” The role of several iron-homeostasis related genes (like ideR) may differ between M. abscessus and Mtb.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 Foreman et al.


  • Mycobacterium abscessus
  • iron acquisition


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