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J Infect Dis. 2012 May 1;205(9):1425-35. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis226. Epub 2012 Mar 29.

Specific T cells restore the autophagic flux inhibited by Mycobacterium tuberculosis in human primary macrophages.

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Translational Research Unit, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy.



Autophagy inhibits survival of intracellular Mycobacterium tuberculosis when induced by rapamycin or interferon γ (IFN-γ), but it remains unclear whether M. tuberculosis itself can induce autophagy and whether T cells play a role in M. tuberculosis-mediated autophagy. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of M. tuberculosis on autophagy in human primary macrophages and the role of specific T cells in this process.


M. tuberculosis (H37Rv)-infected macrophages were incubated with naive or M. tuberculosis-specific T cells. Autophagy was evaluated at 4 hours and 8 hours after infection by analyzing the levels of LC3-II (a hallmark of autophagy) and p62 (a protein degraded by autophagy). M. tuberculosis survival was evaluated by counting the colony-forming units.


M. tuberculosis infection of macrophages inhibited the autophagic process at 8 hours after infection. Naive T cells could not rescue this block, whereas M. tuberculosis-specific T cells restored autophagy degradation, accompanied by enhanced bacterial killing. Notably, the effect of M. tuberculosis-specific T cells was not affected by neutralization of endogenous IFN-γ and tumor necrosis factor α and was blocked by preventing contact between macrophages and T cells, suggesting that cell-cell interaction is crucial.


M. tuberculosis inhibits autophagy in human primary macrophages, and specific T cells can restore functional autophagic flux through cell-cell contact.

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