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Infect Immun. 2002 May;70(5):2544-8.

Identification and characterization of the ESAT-6 homologue of Mycobacterium leprae and T-cell cross-reactivity with Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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  • 1Department of Immunohematology and Blood Transfusion, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.


In this paper we describe identification and characterization of Mycobacterium leprae ESAT-6 (L-ESAT-6), the homologue of M. tuberculosis ESAT-6 (T-ESAT-6). T-ESAT-6 is expressed by all pathogenic strains belonging to the M. tuberculosis complex but is absent from virtually all other mycobacterial species, and it is a promising antigen for immunodiagnosis of tuberculosis (TB). Therefore, we analyzed whether L-ESAT-6 is a similarly powerful tool for the study of leprosy by examining T-cell responses against L-ESAT-6 in leprosy patients, TB patients, and exposed or nonexposed healthy controls from areas where leprosy and TB are endemic and areas where they are not endemic. L-ESAT-6 was recognized by T cells from leprosy patients, TB patients, individuals who had contact with TB patients, and healthy individuals from an area where TB and leprosy are endemic but not by T cells from individuals who were not exposed to M. tuberculosis and M. leprae. Moreover, leprosy patients who were not responsive to M. leprae failed to respond to L-ESAT-6. A very similar pattern was obtained with T-ESAT-6. These results show that L-ESAT-6 is a potent M. leprae antigen that stimulates T-cell-dependent gamma interferon production in a large proportion of individuals exposed to M. leprae. Moreover, our results suggest that there is significant cross-reactivity between T-ESAT-6 and L-ESAT-6, which has implications for the use of ESAT-6 as tool for diagnosis of leprosy and TB in areas where both diseases are endemic.

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