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J Immunol. 2005 Apr 1;174(7):4237-43.

Infection biology of a novel alpha-crystallin of Mycobacterium tuberculosis: Acr2.

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Wellcome Trust Center for Research in Clinical Tropical Medicine and Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Wright Fleming Institute, UK.


Heat shock proteins assist the survival of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) but also provide a signal to the immune response. The gene most strongly induced by heat shock in MTB is Rv0251c, which encodes Acr2, a novel member of the alpha-crystallin family of molecular chaperones. The expression of acr2 increased within 1 h after infection of monocytes or macrophages, reaching a peak of 18- to 55-fold by 24 h. Inhibition of superoxide action reduced the intracellular increase in acr2. Despite this contribution to the stress response of MTB, the gene for acr2 appears dispensable; a deletion mutant (Deltaacr2) was unimpaired in log phase growth and persisted in IFN-gamma-activated human macrophages. Acr2 protein was strongly recognized by cattle with early primary Mycobacterium bovis infection and by healthy MTB-sensitized people. Within the latter group, those with recent exposure to infectious tuberculosis had, on average, 2.6 times the frequency of Acr2-specific IFN-gamma-secreting T cells than those with more remote exposure (p = 0.009). These data show that, by its up-regulation early after entry to cells, Acr2 gives away the presence of MTB to the immune response. The demonstration that there is infection stage-specific immunity to tuberculosis has implications for vaccine design.

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