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Infect Immun. 1992 Apr;60(4):1441-6.

Tumor necrosis factor production in patients with leprosy.

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Department of Medicine, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles 90033.


The spectrum of host responses to Mycobacterium leprae provides a model for investigating the role of cytokines in the pathogenesis of mycobacterial disease. Of particular interest is tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a cytokine which may have both antimycobacterial and immunopathologic effects. To evaluate the potential role of TNF in leprosy, we measured TNF production in response to M. leprae and its defined constituents by peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients across the spectrum of disease. The levels of TNF induced through the stimulation of cells with M. leprae or its dominant "lipopolysaccharide," lipoarabinomannan, were higher in patients with the tuberculoid form of the disease than in those with the lepromatous form. In patients with erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL), a reactional state of lepromatous leprosy, the levels of TNF release by peripheral blood mononuclear cells were higher than in any other form of the disease. Treatment of ENL patients with thalidomide reduced TNF secretion by more than 90%. The mycolylarabinogalactan-peptidoglycan complex of Mycobacterium species, the protein-peptidoglycan complex, and muramyl dipeptide all elicited significant TNF release. Therefore, TNF release appears to be triggered by at least two major cell wall structural constituents of M. leprae, lipoarabinomannan and segments of the cell wall skeleton. The prominent TNF release in patients with the paucibacillary tuberculoid form of the disease compared with that in patients with the multibacillary lepromatous form suggests that this cytokine contributes to a resistant immune response to mycobacterial infection. However, the marked TNF release in patients with ENL indicates that TNF may also mediate immunopathologic effects, such as fever and tissue damage.

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