Background: The protective immune response against Mycobacterium tuberculosis relies both on antigen-presenting cells and on T lymphocytes. In patients with different forms of tuberculosis, varying degrees of T cell function--ranging from positive delayed-type hypersensitivity, in asymptomatic infected healthy individuals, to the absence of the response, in patients with miliary or pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB)--have been reported. The decreased expression of CD3zeta reported in T cells from patients with either cancer or leprosy has provided possible explanations for the altered immune response observed in these diseases.
Methods: The present study aimed to compare the expression of CD3zeta , nuclear transcription factor- kappa B (NF- kappa B), arginase activity, and cytokine production in 20 patients with PTB, in 20 tuberculin-positive asymptomatic subjects, and in 14 tuberculin-negative control subjects.
Results: Compared with those in tuberculin (purified protein derivative)-negative control subjects, peripheral-blood T lymphocytes from patients with active PTB had significantly (P < .001) decreased expression of CD3zeta and absence of the p65/p50 heterodimer of NF- kappa B. These alterations were reversed only in patients who responded to treatment. Also reported here for the first time is that the presence of arginase activity in peripheral-blood mononuclear-cell lysates of patients with PTB parallels high production of interleukin-10.
Conclusions: The presence of arginase could, in part, explain the decreased expression of CD3zeta . These findings provide a novel mechanism that may explain the T cell dysfunction observed in patients with PTB.