ABSTRACT Mycobacterium avium(Mav) complex (MAC) are characterized as non-tuberculosis mycobacteria and are pathogenic mainly in immunocompromised individuals. MAC strains show a wide genetic variability, and there is growing evidence suggesting that genetic differences may contribute to a varied immune response that may impact on the infection outcome. The current study aimed to characterize the genomic changes within Mav isolates collected from single patients over time and test the host immune responses to these clinical isolates. Pulsed field gel electrophoresis and whole genome sequencing was performed on 40 MAC isolates isolated from 15 patients at the Department of Medical Microbiology at St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway. Patients (4, 9 and 13) who contributed more than two isolates were selected for further analysis. These isolates exhibited extensive sequence variation in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), suggesting that Mav accumulates mutations at high rates during persistent infections. Infection of murine macrophages and mice with sequential isolates from patients showed a tendency towards increased persistence and down-regulation of inflammatory cytokines by host-adapted Mav strains. The study revealed rapid genetic evolution of Mav in chronically infected patients accompanied with change in virulence properties of the sequential mycobacterial isolates. IMPORTANCE
MAC are a group of opportunistic pathogens, consisting of Mav and
M. intracellularespecies. Mav is found ubiquitously in the environment. In Mav infected individuals, Mav has been known to persist for long periods of time, and anti-mycobacterial drugs are unable to effectively clear the infection. The continued presence of the bacteria, could be attributed to either a single persistent strain or reinfection with the same or different strain. We examined sequential isolates collected over time from Mav infected individuals and observed that most patients carried the same strain overtime and were not re infected. We observed high rates of mutation within the serial isolates, accompanied with changes in virulence properties. In the light of increase in incidence of MAC related infections, this study highlights the possibility that host adapted Mav undergo genetic modifications to cope with the host environment and thereby persisting longer.