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J Clin Invest. 1991 Feb;87(2):729-33.

Selective expansion of human gamma delta T cells by monocytes infected with live Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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  • 1Division of Infectious Diseases, Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine, University Hospital Cleveland, Ohio 44106.


Gamma delta (gamma delta) T cell receptor (TCR) expressing T cells comprise 3% of human peripheral blood lymphocytes, yet their role in the immune response remains largely unknown. There is evidence both in humans and in animal models that these cells participate in the immune response to mycobacterial antigens. In mice, exposure to mycobacterial antigens leads to the expansion of gamma delta T cells in draining lymph nodes and lungs. In humans, gamma delta T cell lines with reactivity to mycobacterial antigens have been derived from synovial fluid of a rheumatoid arthritis patient, skin lesions of leprosy patients, and peripheral blood of a healthy tuberculin reactor. Very little is known, however, about the factors which induce human gamma delta T cells to expand. In studies comparing the human T cell response to live and heat-killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MT), we have found that monocytes infected with live MT are very effective inducers of human gamma delta T cell expansion. After 7 d of exposure to live MT, gamma delta T cells were greatly increased in all healthy tuberculin reactors (PPD+) tested and frequently were the predominant T cell population. In contrast, heat-killed MT or purified protein products of MT induced a CD4+, alpha beta TCR+ T cell response with very little increase in gamma delta T cells. Furthermore, a similar selective induction of gamma delta T cells was observed when monocytes infected with live Salmonella were used to stimulate T cells. Heat-killed Salmonella, like heat-killed MT, induced a predominantly CD4+ alpha beta TCR+ T cell response. These findings suggest that human gamma delta T cells are a major reactive T cell population during the early stages of infection with living intracellular bacteria and are therefore likely to exert an important role in the initial interaction between host and parasite.

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