Understanding human immunity to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) during different stages of infection is important for development of an effective tuberculosis (TB) vaccine. We aimed to evaluate immunity to Mtb infection by measuring immune responses to selected Mtb antigens expressed during different stages of infection over time and to observe sustainability of immunity.
In a cohort study comprising East Greenlanders aged 17-22 years (2012 to 2014) who had either; undetectable Mtb infection, ongoing or prior Mtb infection at enrolment, we measured immunity to 15 antigens over a one-year period. Quantiferon-TB Gold testing (QFT) defined Mtb infection status (undetected/detected). The eligible study population of East Greenlanders aged 17-22 years was identified from the entire population using the Civil Registration System. From the source population 65 participants were selected by stratified random sampling according to information on Mtb infection stage. Retrospective and prospective information on notified TB (including treatment) was obtained through the mandatory TB notification system and was used to characterise Mtb infection stage (ongoing/prior). Immunity to 15 antigens including two QFT antigens, PPD and 12 non-QFT antigens (representing early, constitutive and latent Mtb infection) was assessed by measuring immune responses using whole-blood antigen stimulation and interferon gamma measurement.
Of 65 participants, 54 were considered Mtb-infected. Immunity to Mtb infection fluctuated with high annual risk of conversion (range: 6-69%) and reversion (range: 5-95%). During follow-up, five (8%) participants were notified with TB; neither conversion nor reversion was associated with an increased risk of progressing to TB.
Our findings suggest that human immunity to natural Mtb infection over time is versatile with fluctuations, resulting in high levels of conversion and reversion of immunity, thus human immunity to Mtb is much more dynamic than anticipated. The study findings suggest future use of longitudinal assessment of immune responses when searching for TB vaccine candidate antigens.
Cites: N Engl J Med. 2015 May 28;372(22):2127-3526017823