Leprosy bacillus--possibly the first chemoautotrophic human pathogen cultivated in vitro and characterised.
Leprosy bacillus (LB) and leprosy derived in vitro culture forms, the chemoautotrophic nocardioform (CAN) bacteria, showed an extremely close homology and identity with each other as regards a chemoautotrophic nutritional pattern, a nocardioform morphology, a weak acid-fastness coupled with Gram and Gomori's stain positivity, an exclusive mycolate and lipid profile, a phenolic glycolipid (PGL-I) and a highly sequestrated DNA characteristic, namely, a unique small size, a low G+C % mole, an exceptionally high gamma and UV radiation resistance, and a high thermal resistance. LB/CAN bacteria (CANb) gave positive signals for 36 kDa protein PCR, as well as, for 65 kDa epitope, and hybridisation with two or more probes and also by RFLP-analysis. Both LB/and CAN bacteria exhibited bacillary multiplication in the mouse footpads (MFP), nerve infiltration and evidences for local pathogenicity associated with pronounced systemic invasion. A highly reproducible mutilation model could be established which enabled a successful application of the postulates of Koch. The proof of their total identity was their anergic reactions in LL cases counterpoised against Mitsuda type strong nodular responses, mirroring the reactions of leprosy bacilli in TT cases, in accordance with the dictum of XIth International Leprosy Congress (1978). Thus, the chemoautotrophic nutritional requirements of LB, entirely unsuspected for a medically important pathogenic bacterium, having dimorphic (both bacillary and mycelial) characters with spores, mycelia and granules and unique pathogenicity of multilation manifested through the virulence factor, the enzyme collagenase, made LB or M leprae the highly enigmatic bacterium for so long.