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Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death from an infectious bacterial disease. Poor diagnostic tools to detect active disease plague TB control programs and affect patient care. Accurate detection of live Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the causative agent of TB, could improve TB diagnosis and patient treatment. We report that mycobacteria and other corynebacteria can be specifically detected with a fluorogenic trehalose analog. We designed a 4-N,N-dimethylamino-1,8-naphthalimide–conjugated trehalose (DMN-Tre) probe that undergoes >700-fold increase in fluorescence intensity when transitioned from aqueous to hydrophobic environments. This enhancement occurs upon metabolic conversion of DMN-Tre to trehalose monomycolate and incorporation into the mycomembrane of Actinobacteria. DMN-Tre labeling enabled the rapid, no-wash visualization of mycobacterial and corynebacterial species without nonspecific labeling of Gram-positive or Gram-negative bacteria. DMN-Tre labeling was detected within minutes and was inhibited by heat killing of mycobacteria. Furthermore, DMN-Tre labeling was reduced by treatment with TB drugs, unlike the clinically used auramine stain. Lastly, DMN-Tre labeled Mtb in TB-positive human sputum samples comparably to auramine staining, suggesting that this operationally simple method may be deployable for TB diagnosis.
Cell surface trehalose mycolates are important modulators of mycobacterial pathogenesis and host immune response. We discuss the use of fluorescent and fluorogenic trehalose probes for the detection of the mycobacterial trehalose glycolipids. These probes enable real-time imaging of trehalose mycolate biosynthesis and mycomembrane dynamics in the laboratory as well as in clinical settings for the detection of mycobacteria in patient samples.