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Infect Immun. May 1995; 63(5): 1710–1717.
PMCID: PMC173214

Purification and characterization of a low-molecular-mass T-cell antigen secreted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis.


A novel immunogenic antigen, the 6-kDa early secretory antigenic target (ESAT-6), from short-term culture filtrates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis was purified by hydrophobic interaction chromatography and anion-exchange chromatography by use of fast protein liquid chromatography. The antigen focused at two different pIs of 4.0 and 4.5 during isoelectric focusing, and each of these components separated into three spots ranging from 4 to 6 kDa during two-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The apparent differences in molecular masses or pIs of these isoforms were not due to posttranslational glycosylation. The molecular weight of the purified native protein was determined by applying gel filtration and nondenaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and found to be 24 kDa. ESAT-6 is recognized by the murine monoclonal antibody HYB 76-8, which was used to screen a recombinant lambda gt11 M. tuberculosis DNA library. A phage expressing a gene product recognized by HYB 76-8 was isolated, and a 1.7-kbp fragment of the mycobacterial DNA insert was sequenced. The structural gene of ESAT-6 was identified as the sequence encoding a polypeptide of 95 amino acids. The N terminus of the deduced sequence could be aligned with the 10 amino-terminal amino acids derived from sequence analyses of the native protein. N-terminal sequence analysis showed that the purified antigen was essentially free from contaminants, and the amino acid analysis of the antigen was in good agreement with the DNA sequence-deduced amino acid composition. Thus, the heterogeneities observed in the pI and molecular weight of the purified antigen do not derive from contaminating proteins but are most likely due to heterogeneity of the antigen itself. Native and recombinant ESAT-6 are immunologically active in that both elicited a high release of gamma interferon from T cells isolated from memory-immune mice challenged with M. tuberculosis. Analyses of subcellular fractions of M. tuberculosis showed the presence of ESAT-6 in cytosol- and cell wall-containing fractions. Interspecies analyses showed the presence of ESAT-6 in filtrates from M. tuberculosis complex species. Among filtrates from mycobacteria not belonging to the M. tuberculosis complex, reactivity was observed in Mycobacterium kansasii, Mycobacterium szulgai, and Mycobacterium marinum.

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Selected References

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