Diagnostic accuracy is of paramount importance in test-and-slaughter programmes for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis (TB). Currently applied methods, such as in vivo skin testing and in vitro interferon-gamma (IFN- gamma) testing, utilize purified protein derivatives (PPDs), which are poorly-defined mixtures containing many individual antigenic components. It is known that false-positive responses to these reagents can occur in cattle which are not infected with TB, largely because of that antigenic complexity. This paper reviews recent approaches to the characterization of more precisely defined diagnostic tools which can be used to develop tests with greater specificity. For example, the low mass secreted protein ESAT-6 has been shown to be capable of differentiating TB-infected cattle from those which develop responsiveness to PPD through contact with environmental mycobacteria or vaccination with BCG. The information which has accumulated in recent years has shown that the increased specificity is associated with some decrease in test sensitivity, but the overall advantages of being able to make precise diagnostic decisions will have significant advantages in many situations.
Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.