An emerging epizootic of mycobacteriosis currently threatens striped bass Morone saxatilis populations in Chesapeake Bay, USA. Several species of mycobacteria, including Mycobacterium marinum, species resembling M. avium, M. gordonae, M. peregrinum, M. scrofulaceum and M. terrae, and the new species M. shottsii have been isolated from diseased and healthy bass. In this study, we describe the ultrastructure of developing M. marinum granulomas in experimentally infected bass over a period of 45 wk. The primary host response to injected mycobacteria was formation of large macrophage aggregations containing phagocytosed bacilli, M. marinum were always contained within phagosomes. Close association of lysosomes with mycobacterial phagosomes, as well as the presence of electron-opaque material within phagosomes, suggested phagolysosomal fusion. Development of granulomas involved epithelioid transformation of macrophages, followed by appearance of central necrosis. Desmosomes were present between mature epithelioid cells. The necrotic core region of M. marinum granulomas was separated from overlying epithelioid cells by several layers of flattened, electron-opaque spindle-shaped cells. These cells appeared to be formed by compression of epithelioid cells and, aside from a flattened nucleus, did not possess recognizable organelles. Following the development of well-defined, paucibacillary granulomas, secondary disease was observed. Recrudescence was marked by bacterial replication followed by disruption of granuloma architecture, including loss of epithelioid and spindle cell layers. In advanced recrudescent lesions, normal tissue was replaced by macrophages, fibroblasts, and other inflammatory leukocytes. Large numbers of mycobacteria were observed, both intracellular and suspended in cellular debris.
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Ultrastructure of Mycobacterium marinum granuloma in striped bass Morone saxatilis