Abstract The opportunistic pathogen Mycobacterium ulcerans, which is responsible for Buruli ulcer, synthesizes a series of plasmid-encoded macrolide exotoxins termed mycolactones. These toxins destabilize cell membranes and induce apoptosis-associated pleiotropic effects including tissue destruction, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Despite its medical interest, M. ulcerans is primarily an environmental mycobacterium and the primary functions of mycolactones in the natural ecosystems are unknown. High throughput biochemical profiling findings suggested that M. ulcerans may interact with fungi. Here, we report that semi-purified and purified mycolactones significantly enhance spore germination of Scedosporium apiospermum, Fusarium equiseti and Mucor circinelloides; and that M. ulcerans mycolactones significantly attract colonies of M. circinelloides whereas no significant effect was observed on S. apiospermum and F. equiseti. These experimental results suggest that mycolactones exhibit a chemoattractant activity independent of their cytotoxicity. In natural ecosystems, M. ulcerans mycolactones may act as spore germination inducers and chemoattractants for some fungi, suggesting a novel role for this unique class of mycobacterial toxins in natural ecosystems.
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