The ability of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to form serpentine cords is intrinsically related to its virulence, but specifically how M. tuberculosis cording contributes to pathogenesis remains obscure. Here, we show that several M. tuberculosis clinical isolates form intracellular cords in primary human lymphatic endothelial cells (hLECs) in vitro and in the lymph nodes of patients with tuberculosis. We identified via RNA-Seq a transcriptional program that activated, in infected-hLECs, cell survival and cytosolic surveillance of pathogens pathways. Consistent with this, cytosolic access was required for intracellular M. tuberculosis cording. Mycobacteria lacking ESX-1 type VII secretion system or phthiocerol dimycocerosates expression, which failed to access the cytosol, were indeed unable to form cords within hLECs. Finally, we show that M. tuberculosis cording is a size-dependent mechanism used by the pathogen to avoid its recognition by cytosolic sensors and evade either resting or IFN-γ–induced hLEC immunity. These results explain the long-standing association between M. tuberculosis cording and virulence and how virulent mycobacteria use intracellular cording as strategy to successfully adapt and persist in the lymphatic tracts.
Thomas R. Lerner, Christophe J. Queval, Rachel P. Lai, Matthew R.G. Russell, Antony Fearns, Daniel J. Greenwood, Lucy Collinson, Robert J. Wilkinson, Maximiliano G. Gutierrez