When grown in the presence of exogenous collagen I, Mycobacterium bovis
BCG was shown to form clumps. Scanning electron microscopy examination of these clumps revealed the presence of collagen fibres cross-linking the bacilli. Since collagen is a major constituent of the eukaryotic extracellular matrices, we assayed BCG cytoadherence in the presence of exogenous collagen I. Collagen increased the interaction of the bacilli with A549 type II pneumocytes or U937 macrophages, suggesting that BCG is able to recruit collagen to facilitate its attachment to host cells. Using an affinity chromatography approach, we have isolated a BCG collagen-binding protein corresponding to the previously described mycobacterial laminin-binding histone-like protein (LBP/Hlp), a highly conserved protein associated with the mycobacterial cell wall. Moreover, Mycobacterium leprae
LBP/Hlp, a well-characterized adhesin, was also able to bind collagen I. Finally, using recombinant fragments of M. leprae
LBP/Hlp, we mapped the collagen-binding activity within the C-terminal domain of the adhesin. Since this protein was already shown to be involved in the recognition of laminin and heparan sulphate-containing proteoglycans, the present observations reinforce the adhesive activities of LBP/Hlp, which can be therefore considered as a multifaceted mycobacterial adhesin, playing an important role in both leprosy and tuberculosis pathogenesis.