Enhanced tenacity of mycobacterial aerosols from necrotic neutrophils
The tuberculosis agent Mycobacterium tuberculosis is primarily transmitted through air, but little is known about the tenacity of mycobacterium-containing aerosols derived from either suspensions or infected neutrophils. Analysis of mycobacterial aerosol particles generated from bacterial suspensions revealed an average aerodynamic diameter and mass density that may allow distant airborne transmission. The volume and mass of mycobacterial aerosol particles increased with elevated relative humidity. To more closely mimic aerosol formation that occurs in active TB patients, aerosols from mycobacterium-infected neutrophils were analysed. Mycobacterium-infected intact neutrophils showed a smaller particle size distribution and lower viability than free mycobacteria. In contrast, mycobacterium-infected necrotic neutrophils, predominant in M. tuberculosis infection, revealed particle sizes and viability rates similar to those found for free mycobacteria, but in addition, larger aggregates of viable mycobacteria were observed. Therefore, mycobacteria are shielded from environmental stresses in multibacillary aggregates generated from necrotic neutrophils, which allows improved tenacity but emphasizes short distance transmission between close contacts.