Identification of the leprosy bacillus and related mycobacteria by analysis of mycocerosate profiles.
Members of the phthiocerol dimycocerosate family of waxes were extracted from Mycobacterium bovis BCG, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium kansasii, Mycobacterium marinum, Mycobacterium ulcerans and a skin biopsy from a leprosy patient. The waxes were degraded by alkaline hydrolysis and the mycocerosic acids converted to pentafluorobenzyl ester. Profiles of the esters, recorded using electron-capture gas-chromatography, gave characteristic profiles for the mycocerosates from M. leprae but those from M. bovis, M. tuberculosis and M. kansasii were superficially similar. The mycocerosate profiles from M. marinum and M. ulcerans were similar, but distinct from the others. Selected ion monitoring negative ion-chemical ionisation gas chromatography-mass spectrometry of of the pentafluorobenzyl esters allowed the analysis of mycocerosate isomers not revealed on gas chromatography alone. M. bovis and M. tuberculosis had similar profiles of C29, C30 and C32 mycocerosates; and additional C33 component was also present in M. kansasii. The mycocerosates from M. marinum and M. ulcerans were C27, C29 and C30 and those from M. leprae were distinct in having C29, C30, C32, C33 and C34 components. These methods have excellent potential for use in the detection of mycobacterial disease by direct analysis of infected tissue without prior cultivation of the causative agent.