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Microbiol Rev. 1992 Dec;56(4):648-61.

The antigen 85 complex: a major secretion product of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

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Institute of Immunology and Rheumatology, University of Oslo, Norway.


The large number of different proteins synthesized by the mycobacterial cell are currently classified and studied in terms of groups of proteins with certain common properties such as physical and chemical characteristics, function, and localization in the mycobacterial cell. Proteins that are actively secreted during culture on synthetic media represent a particular group of great current interest. At least eight proteins secreted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis have been isolated and characterized to various extents. The genes coding for five proteins secreted from M. tuberculosis and/or Mycobacterium bovis BCG have been cloned and sequenced. All of them contain typical signal sequences. The proteins of the antigen 85 complex, which form the main subject of this review, are often the most common proteins in M. tuberculosis culture fluid. The constituents denoted 85A, 85B, and 85C are encoded by three genes located at different sites in the mycobacterial genome and show extensive cross-reactivity as well as homology at amino acid and gene levels. The proteins differ slightly in molecular mass in the 30- to 31-kDa region, and all of them are fibronectin-binding proteins, but the significance of the latter observation and the role of these proteins in mycobacterial physiology and interaction with the infected host remain to be elucidated. The antigen 85 complex proteins are strongly immunogenic in natural and experimental mycobacterial infections in terms of both induction of antibody synthesis and T-cell-mediated reactions. The well-recognized difference in the efficacy of live and dead mycobacterial vaccines should be considered in relation to the group of secreted antigens. After inoculation, live bacteria in vaccines such as BCG multiply in the host, probably releasing several constituents belonging to the class of secreted proteins and hence resulting in more efficient stimulation of the immune system. Secreted mycobacterial antigens are expected to be of particular significance in induction of various immune responses that are responsible for development of protective immunity in some individuals and for clinical symptoms and complications of the ensuing disease in others.

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