The surface glycopeptidolipids of mycobacteria: structures and biological properties
One of the most important opportunistic pathogens associated with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the M. avium complex. M. avium infections are found in up to 70% of individuals in advanced stages of AIDS. It is apparent that M. avium can replicate in host macrophages and persist for long periods. This group of mycobacteria are distinguished by the presence of unique, highly antigenic, surface-located lipids known as the glycopeptidolipids (GPLs). The GPLs are the chemical basis of the 31 distinct serovars of the M. avium complex, and have also been identified in some other species. The M. avium lipids are immunosuppressive and can induce a variety of cytokines that affect general host responses. Despite extensive chemical characterization of the structures of these GPLs, much work is needed to elucidate the molecular mechanism involved in this complex glycosylation pathway and its genetic basis. The challenges for the future lie in explaining the roles of these copious products in the intracellular life and infectivity of mycobacteria. The intention of our review is to offer a concise account of the structures of the M. avium lipids, their putative roles in the host responses, bacterial physiology and pathogenesis, particularly in immunocompromised patients such as those infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Advances in chemical synthesis of the various haptenic oligosaccharides are also given to demonstrate how these have helped to define the immunogenic determinants. We believe that future research should involve the creation of conditional mutants defective in these lipids for both functional and biosynthesis studies which will complement biological assays using chemically defined or modified neoglycoconjugates.
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