Abstract

Bacterial capsules have evolved to be at the forefront of the cell envelope, making them an essential element of bacterial biology. Efforts to understand the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) capsule began more than 60 years ago, but the relatively recent development of mycobacterial genetics combined with improved chemical and immunological tools have revealed a more refined view of capsule molecular composition. A glycogen-like α-glucan is the major constituent of the capsule, with lower amounts of arabinomannan and mannan, proteins and lipids. The major Mtb capsular components mediate interactions with phagocytes that favor bacterial survival. Vaccination approaches targeting the mycobacterial capsule have proven successful in controlling bacterial replication. Although the Mtb capsule is composed of polysaccharides of relatively low complexity, the concept of antigenic variability associated with this structure has been suggested by some studies. Understanding how Mtb shapes its envelope during its life cycle is key to developing anti-infective strategies targeting this structure at the host–pathogen interface.

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