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Immunology. 2002 Feb;105(2):222-30.

Mycobacterial antigens induce apoptosis in human purified protein derivative-specific alphabeta T lymphocytes in a concentration-dependent manner.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, Georg August University Goettingen, Robert-Koch-Strasse 40, D-37075 Goettingen, Germany.


The morbidity and lethality of tuberculosis is partially the result of an ineffective delayed-type hypersensitivity reaction which causes caseating granulomas in the lung and other organs. Recently we showed that during caseation besides macrophages numerous Fas+ FasL+ lymphocytes undergo apoptosis and postulated that this phenomenon may be due to activation-induced cell death (AICD) as a consequence of T-lymphocyte reactivation via bacillary antigens. As purified protein derivative of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb-PPD) provokes caseation in tuberculosis patients, the question arose as to whether bacillary antigens are responsible for AICD within caseous areas. In the present study Mtb-PPD-specific T helper 1 (Th1)-differentiated T lymphocytes were generated in vitro. Reactivation of these cells with Mtb-PPD resulted in a concentration-dependent hyporesponsiveness, which was due to an increase in apoptosis of gammadelta+, alphabeta+ CD4+ as well as alphabeta+ CD8+ T lymphocytes as assessed by the demonstration of the apoptosis-associated mitochondrial membrane protein 7A6 and DNA fragmentation. Blocking experiments demonstrated that Mtb-PPD antigens exploited the Fas/FasL system to induce apoptosis in Mtb-PPD-specific T lymphocytes. These results may support the hypothesis that in tubercle granulomas with caseation T lymphocytes undergo AICD following reactivation by bacillary antigens, thus contributing to the persistence of tuberculosis.

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