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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2013;783:225-50. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-6111-1_12.

The role of B cells and humoral immunity in Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection.

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Department of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA.


Tuberculosis (TB) remains a serious threat to public health, causing 2 million deaths annually world-wide. The control of TB has been hindered by the requirement of long duration of treatment involving multiple chemotherapeutic agents, the increased susceptibility to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in the HIV-infected population, and the development of multi-drug resistant and extensively resistant strains of tubercle bacilli. An efficacious and cost-efficient way to control TB is the development of effective anti-TB vaccines. This measure requires thorough understanding of the immune response to M. tuberculosis. While the role of cell-mediated immunity in the development of protective immune response to the tubercle bacillus has been well established, the role of B cells in this process is not clearly understood. Emerging evidence suggests that B cells and humoral immunity can modulate the immune response to various intracellular pathogens, including M. tuberculosis. These lymphocytes form conspicuous aggregates in the lungs of tuberculous humans, non-human primates, and mice, which display features of germinal center B cells. In murine TB, it has been shown that B cells can regulate the level of granulomatous reaction, cytokine production, and the T cell response. This chapter discusses the potential mechanisms by which specific functions of B cells and humoral immunity can shape the immune response to intracellular pathogens in general, and to M. tuberculosis in particular. Knowledge of the B cell-mediated immune response to M. tuberculosis may lead to the design of novel strategies, including the development of effective vaccines, to better control TB.

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