Protective immunity against Mycobacterium leprae is dependent on M. leprae‐reactive T lymphocytes. M. leprae‐directed T cell reactivity is high in the localized tuberculoid form of leprosy but specifically absent in the disseminated lepromatous type of the disease. Two important questions that are relevant for the understanding of the immune response in leprosy as well as for the design of rational immunoprophylaxis and ‐therapy strategies are: (a) what are the antigens that trigger T cell responses in tuberculoid patients and thus protect these individuals from developing lepromatous leprosy and (b) is it possible to restore T cell responsiveness to M. leprae in lepromatous patients by rechallenging the immune system with selected antigens that will trigger help but not suppression? We have addressed these question by directly probing the peripheral T cell repertoire of 10 tuberculoid and 18 lepromatous patients with large numbers of different M. leprae and BCG antigenic components that had been separated on the basis of their relative molecular mass (Mr) by sodium dodecyl sulfate‐polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and electroblotted onto nitrocellulose. This technique allows the identification of T cell‐stimulating antigens independent of the expression of B cell epitopes by these antigens. So far T cell epitopes have only been mapped on M. leprae proteins that had previously been defined by antibodies. Our results show that: (a) tuberculoid patients' T cells responded preferentially to M. leprae and BCG antigens in the lower (i.e. < 70 kDa) Mr range with a peak in the 10–25 kDa range; (b) 6 out of 18 lepromatous patients that did not respond to whole M. leprae responded strongly to isolated M. leprae components; antigens in the lower Mr. range were recognized by five out of these six patients and thus commonly seen by both tuberculoid and lepromatous patients' T cells; however, antigens in the higher Mr range, in particular > 150 kDa, were only recognized by lepromatous patients' T lymphocytes; (c) furthermore, the T and B cell repertoires in leprosy patients are skewed towards different antigenic fractions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy