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Fighting co-infection in HIV/AIDS patients

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., February 17, 2015 – A research team from The Forsyth Institute has identified for the first time the presence of a group of bacteria that was not previously believed to reside naturally in the mouths of healthy individuals. Nontuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) are known to cause serious co-infections in HIV/AIDS patients, and can cause a variety of diseases affecting the skin, intestines and lungs in susceptible children and the elderly. Forsyth’s discovery that NTM is naturally present in the oral cavity in absence of an infection will lead to a better understanding of how these organism may cause serious co-infections and how to more effectively prevent and treat these conditions.

The study, titled “The Hidden ‘Mycobacteriome’ of the Human Healthy Oral Cavity and Upper Respiratory Tract,” has been published in the February issue of the Journal of Oral Microbiology. The findings are significant as NTM is often mistakenly diagnosed as drug resistant tuberculosis in HIV+ individuals. This will lead to more effective treatments and improved quality of life. The discovery may also help prove that NTM can be among a new group of pathogens causing periodontal diseases. 

“The number of infections related to nontuberculosis mycobacteria has increased considerably over the last several decades, causing an array of conditions that are particularly serious to children, the elderly, and HIV/AIDS patients,” said Dr. Antonio Campos-Neto of The Forsyth Institute’s Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “These findings clearly reveal for the first time that healthy individuals harbor a nontuberculous mycobacteriome in their oral cavity and upper respiratory tract. We hope this will have important implications in our understanding of infections caused by NTM.” 

The findings could impact tuberculosis research as well. Although NTM does not cause tuberculosis, the two share a number of molecules. The discovery outlined in the study combined with research into individuals with a pre-existing immunity to M. tuberculosis may lead to the development of better vaccines and diagnostics for tuberculosis.

The study was conducted by The Forsyth Institute with support from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. It was authored, in addition to Campos-Neto, by Lilia Macovei, Jon McCafferty, Tsute Chen, Flavia Teles, Hatice Hasturk, and Bruce Paster. To learn more, visit

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