Use of 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide for rapid detection of rifampin-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We describe a test which uses the ability of viable cells to reduce 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) to detect resistance to a bactericidal drug, rifampin, in in vitro-cultured Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The assay shows a linear relationship between the number of viable bacteria and the ability to reduce MTT. Dead mycobacteria were unable to reduce MTT. Rifampin-sensitive M. bovis (BCG) and M. tuberculosis exposed to rifampin showed a rifampin concentration-dependent inhibition of the ability to reduce MTT, while the resistant strains were unaffected. The inhibition of MTT reduction after treatment with rifampin paralleled the reduction in the number of CFU. By using mixing experiments in which the population percentages of rifampin-sensitive and -resistant strains were varied, the assay could detect the presence of rifampin resistance in the mixture when at least 1% of the bacterial population was composed of drug-resistant strains. The assay is cheap, can be visually read, and requires less than 3 days to obtain susceptibility results. The total time required to obtain results, from the time sputum is received in the laboratory, is, in most cases, less than 4 to 5 weeks, which is the time required for primary culture of the bacteria. The MTT assay could, in combination with a test to detect resistance to isoniazid, be a cheap and rapid screening method for multidrug-resistant M. tuberculosis that is affordable even by low-income countries where tuberculosis is a major public health problem.


  • R N Mshana
  • G Tadesse
  • G Abate
  • Håkan Miörner
External organisations
  • Armauer Hansen Research Institute
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Microbiology in the medical area
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1214-1219
JournalJournal of Clinical Microbiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes