Tuberculosis Laboratory, Agricultural Research Council - Onderstepoort Veterinary Research, Onderstepoort, South Africa.
Background: Mycobacteriosis caused by non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), is among the most chronic diseases of aquatic animals. In addition, fish mycobacteriosis has substantial economic consequences especially in the aquaculture and fisheries industry as infections may significantly decrease production and trade. Some fish NTM pathogens are highly virulent and zoonotic; as such, infection of aquaria with these pathogens is a public health concern. In this study, we report isolation of nine different NTM species from sixteen aquatic animals including different fish species, frogs and a crocodile. Given the clinical significance of Mycobacterium marinum and its close relation to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, as well as the significance of ESAT 6 and CFP-10 secretion in mycobacterial virulence, we analysed the esxA and esxB nucleotide sequences of M. marinum isolates identified in this study as well as other mycobacteria in the public databases.
Results: Mycobacterium shimoidei, Mycobacterium marinum, Mycobacterium chelonae, Mycobacterium septicum /M. peregrinum and Mycobacterium porcinum were isolated from gold fish, Guppy, exotic fish species in South Africa, koi and undefined fish, Knysna seahorse, as well Natal ghost frogs respectively, presenting tuberculosis like granuloma. Other NTM species were isolated from the studied aquatic animals without any visible lesions, and these include Mycobacterium sp. N845 T, Mycobacterium fortuitum, a member of the Mycobacterium avium complex, and Mycobacterium szulgai. Phylogenetic analysis of mycobacteria, based on esxA and esxB genes, separated slow growing from rapidly growing mycobacteria as well as pathogenic from non-pathogenic mycobacteria in some cases.
Conclusions: Isolation of the different NTM species from samples presenting granuloma suggests the significance of these NTM species in causing mycobacteriosis in these aquatic animals. The study also revealed the potential of esxA and esxB sequences as markers for phylogenetic classification of mycobacteria. Observations regarding use of esxA and esxB sequences for prediction of potential pathogenicity of mycobacteria warrants further investigation of these two genes in a study employing NTM species with well-defined pathogenicity.
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