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J Infect Dis. 2010 Dec 1;202(11):1685-9. doi: 10.1086/656772. Epub 2010 Oct 19.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific cellular immune profiles suggest bacillary persistence decades after spontaneous cure in untreated tuberculosis.

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Tuberculosis Research Unit, Department of Respiratory Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


Individuals with self-healed tuberculosis from the preantibiotic era offer a unique insight into the natural history of and protective immunity to tuberculosis. In 27 such persons whose tuberculosis self-healed >50 years earlier, circulating Mycobacterium tuberculosis antigen-specific interferon γ (IFN-γ)- and interleukin 2 (IL-2)-secreting T cells were detected ex vivo in 16 and 19 individuals, respectively. The M. tuberculosis-specific T cell cytokine profile was dominated by effector memory T cells that secrete both IFN-γ and IL-2 and included T cells that secrete only IFN-γ or IL-2, suggesting persistence of antigen secreted by viable bacilli. Of 10 individuals with no M. tuberculosis antigen-specific IFN-γ-secreting T cells detectable ex vivo, 7 had evidence of central memory T cells, consistent with clearance of infection.

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