Recently, L-arginine has been shown to be a necessary substrate for murine-activated macrophage-mediated tumor cytostasis and microbiostasis of certain fungi, bacteria, and intracellular protozoa. We report here the effects of the L-arginine-dependent pathway of activated mouse macrophages (MO) on the obligate intracellular prokaryote, Mycobacterium leprae. Due to the inability to culture M. leprae in vitro, a simple, quantitative assay was employed to measure the metabolism/viability of M. leprae released from MO: the metabolic capacity of M. leprae to oxidize 14C-palmitic acid to 14CO2. Murine normal MO or MO activated in vitro with IFN-gamma or in vivo by injection with Corynebacterium parvum were infected with viable M. leprae freshly harvested from the footpads of nu/nu mice. Activated MO strikingly inhibited the metabolism of M. leprae; however, in L-arginine-free medium or in medium containing L-arginase, the inhibitory effects of activated MO on M. leprae metabolism were abolished. The competitive inhibitor of L-arginine, NG-monomethyl-L-arginine, also blocked the inhibitory effects of activated MO for M. leprae, but the addition of supplemental L-arginine overcame the NG-monomethyl-L-arginine-induced block. Furthermore, in the culture supernatants, the levels of NO2-, an end product of L-arginine degradation, were directly proportional to the ability of the activated MO to inhibit M. leprae metabolism. These data present five lines of evidence that suggest that activated MO utilize the L-arginine-dependent pathway to cope with M. leprae.

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