Leprosy patients with lepromatous disease recognize cross-reactive T cell epitopes in the Mycobacterium leprae 10-kD antigen

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Abstract

SUMMARY

T cell responses play a critical role in determining protective responses to leprosy. Patients with self-limiting tuberculoid leprosy show high T cell reactivity, while patients with disseminated lepromatous form of the disease show absent to low levels of T cell reactivity. Since the T cell reactivity of lepromatous patients to purified protein derivative (PPD), a highly cross-reactive antigen, is similar to that of tuberculoid patients, we queried if lepromatous patients could recognize cross-reactive cross-reactive epitopes in Mycobacterium leprae antigens as well. T cell responses were analysed to a recombinant antigen 10-kD (a heat shock cognate protein) which is available from both M. tuberculosis (MT) and M. leprae (ML) and displays 90% identity in its amino acid sequence. Lymphoproliferative responses were assessed to ML and MT 10 kD in newly diagnosed leprosy patients (lepromatous, n = 23; tuberculoid, n = 65). Lepromatous patients showed similar, but low, lymphoproliferative responses to ML and MT 10 kD, while tuberculoid patients showed much higher responses to ML 10 kD. This suggests that the tuberculoid patients may be recognizing both species-specific and cross-reactive epitopes in ML 10 kD, while lepromatous patients may be recognizing only cross-reactive epitopes. This was further supported by linear regression analysis. Lepromatous patients showed a high concordance in T cell responses between ML and MT 10 kD (r = 0·658; P < 0·0006) not observed in tuberculoid patients (r = 0·203; P < 0·1). Identification of cross-reactive T cell epitopes in M. leprae which could induce protective responses should prove valuable in designing generation peptide-based vaccines.

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