First report of a mycolactone-producing Mycobacterium infection in fish agriculture in Belgium.
Mycobacterium ulcerans and Mycobacterium marinum are closely related pathogens which share an aquatic environment. The pathogenesis of these organisms in humans is limited by their inability to grow above 35 degrees C. M. marinum causes systemic disease in fish but produces localized skin infections in humans. M. ulcerans causes Buruli ulcer, a severe human skin lesion. At the molecular level, M. ulcerans is distinguished from M. marinum by the presence of a virulence plasmid which encodes a macrolide toxin, mycolactone, as well as by hundreds of insertion sequences, particularly IS2404. There has been a global increase in reports of fish mycobacteriosis. An unusual clade of M. marinum has been reported from fish in the Red and Mediterranean Seas and a new mycobacterial species, Mycobacterium pseudoshottsii, has been cultured from fish in the Chesapeake Bay, United States. We have discovered that both groups of fish pathogens produce a unique mycolactone toxin, mycolactone F. Mycolactone F is the smallest mycolactone (molecular weight, 700) yet identified. The core lactone structure of mycolactone F is identical to that of M. ulcerans mycolactones, but a unique side chain structure is present. Mycolactone F produces apoptosis and necrosis on cultured cells but is less potent than M. ulcerans mycolactones. Both groups of fish pathogens contain IS2404. In contrast to M. ulcerans and conventional M. marinum, mycolactone F-producing mycobacteria are incapable of growth at above 30 degrees C. This fact is likely to limit their virulence for humans. However, such isolates may provide a reservoir for horizontal transfer of the mycolactone plasmid in aquatic environments.