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J Pathol. 2000 Aug;191(4):417-25.

Apoptosis of macrophages and T cells in tuberculosis associated caseous necrosis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany.


Immunity against mycobacteria is almost exclusively confined to epithelioid cell granulomas, where a long-lasting but labile balance exists between host and bacilli. The relationship between immunity and mycobacteria results in regression, growth, or caseation of granulomas. To prove whether caseation is associated with apoptosis, biopsy specimens of patients with tuberculosis were analysed by electron microscopy and by in situ end-labelling combined with immunofluorescence. Apoptotic cells were not detected in regressive granulomas. Whereas productive granulomas without histologically recognizable caseous necrosis revealed only single apoptotic cells, large numbers of apoptotic CD68+ macrophages and apoptotic CD3+, CD45RO+ T cells were observed within caseous foci. As prime candidates undergoing and/or eliciting apoptosis, vital cells surrounding caseous foci were characterized. Immunohistochemistry showed that the majority of vital CD68+ macrophages surrounding caseous foci are negative for the anti-apoptotic protein bcl2, but positive for the pro-apoptotic protein bax. In situ hybridization combined with immunofluorescence demonstrated that the majority of the adjacent lymphocytes are activated CD3+, CD45RO+ cells expressing the pro-inflammatory cytokine interferon gamma (IFN gamma) and the death ligand FasL. These results suggest that caseation is strongly associated with apoptosis of macrophages and T lymphocytes; that the onset of apoptosis in macrophages may be promoted by the lack of bcl2 and the abundance of bax; and that activation-induced cell death (AICD) may be responsible for the apoptosis of T cells.

Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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