Fig.1: Structure of an Acid-Fast Cell Wall

In addition to peptidoglycan, the acid-fast cell wall of Mycobacterium contains a large amount of glycolipids, especially mycolic acids. The peptidoglycan layer is linked to arabinogalactan (D-arabinose and D-galactose) which is then linked to high-molecular weight mycolic acids. The arabinogalactan/mycolic acid layer is overlaid with a layer of polypeptides and mycolic acids consisting of free lipids, glycolipids, and peptidoglycolipids. Other glycolipids include lipoarabinomannan and phosphatidyinositol mannosides (PIM). Because of its unique cell wall, when it is stained by the acid-fast procedure, it will resist decolorization with acid-alcohol and stain red, the color of the initial stain, carbol fuchsin. With the exception of a very few other acid-fast bacteria such as Nocardia, all other bacteria will be decolorized and stain blue, the color of the methylene blue counterstain.


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