An accurate test for Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection is urgently needed. The tuberculin skin test (TST) lacks sensitivity, particularly in HIV-infected individuals, and has poor specificity because of antigenic cross-reactivity with Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination. ESAT-6 and CFP-10 are antigens expressed in M. tuberculosis, but not in Mycobacterium bovis BCG and most environmental mycobacteria. We investigated whether T cells specific for these antigens could serve as accurate markers of M. tuberculosis infection in an area of high tuberculosis and HIV prevalence.Methods:
Using the rapid ex-vivo enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay for IFN-γ, we enumerated T cells specific for ESAT-6, CFP-10 and purified protein derivative (PPD) in blood samples from 50 Zambian tuberculosis patients, 75 healthy Zambian adults, and 40 healthy UK residents. TSTs were performed in 49 healthy Zambian adults.Results:
All (100%; n = 11) and 90% (n = 39) of HIV-negative and HIV-positive tuberculosis patients, respectively, had detectable ESAT-6- or CFP-10-specific T cells. The ESAT-6/CFP-10-based ELISPOT assay was positive in 37 out of 54 HIV-negative healthy Zambians, suggesting a 69% prevalence of latent M. tuberculosis infection. Fewer HIV-positive Zambians possessed ESAT-6/CFP-10-specific T cells, but the impact of HIV infection was less on this assay than on the PPD-based ELISPOT or TST.Conclusion:
The ESAT-6/CFP-10-based ELISPOT assay detects active tuberculosis in HIV-positive individuals with high sensitivity. It is more specific, and possibly more sensitive, than PPD-based methods of detecting latent M. tuberculosis infection, and may potentially improve the targeting of isoniazid preventative therapy to HIV-positive individuals with latent tuberculosis infection.