Human immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis antigens

D. V. Havlir, R. S. Wallis, W. H. Boom, T. M. Daniel, K. Chervenak, J. J. Ellner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


Little is known about the immunodominant or protective antigens of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in humans. Cell-mediated immunity is necessary for protection, and healthy tuberculin-positive individuals are relatively resistant to exogenous reinfection. We compared the targets of the cell-mediated immune response in healthy tuberculin-positive individuals to those of tuberculosis patients and tuberculin-negative persons. By using T-cell Western blotting (immunoblotting) or nitrocellulose-bound M. tuberculosis culture filtrate, peaks of T-cell blastogenic activity were identified in the healthy tuberculin reactors at 30, 37, 44, 57, 64, 71 and 88 kDa. Three of these fractions (30, 64, and 71 kDa) coincided with previously characterized proteins: antigen 6/alpha antigen, HSP60, and HSP70, respectively. The blastogenic responses to purified M. tuberculosis antigen 6/alpha antigen and BCG HSP60 were assessed. When cultured with purified antigen 6/alpha antigen, lymphocytes of healthy tuberculin reactors demonstrated greater [3H]thymidine incorporation than either healthy tuberculin-negative controls or tuberculous patients (8,113 ± 1,939 Δcpm versus 645 ± 425 Δcpm and 1,019 ± 710 Δcpm, respectively; P <0.01). Healthy reactors also responded to HSP60, although to a lesser degree than antigen 6/alpha antigen (4,276 ± 1,095 Δcpm; P <0.05). Partially purified HSP70 bound to nitrocellulose paper elicited a significant lymphocyte blastogenic response in two of six of the tuberculous patients but in none of the eight healthy tuberculin reactors. Lymphocytes of none of five tuberculin-negative controls responded to recombinant antigens at 14 or 19 kDa or to HSP70. Antibody reactivity generally was inversely correlated with blastogenic responses: tuberculous sera had high titer antibody to M. tuberculosis culture filtrate in a range from 35 to 180 kDa. This is the first systematic evaluation of the human response to a panel of native and recombinant antigens in healthy tuberculin reactors and tuberculous patients. Antigens which stimulated prominent lymphocyte blastogenic responses were identified in seven fractions on T-cell Western blot analysis. Two of these may represent previously characterized proteins; the others may contain immunodominant proteins that will require further characterization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-670
Number of pages6
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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