How a different look at latency can help to develop novel diagnostics and vaccines against tuberculosis

Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2007 Nov;7(11):1665-77. doi: 10.1517/14712598.7.11.1665.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis is one of the most successful human pathogens. It kills every year approximately 1.5 - 2 million people, and at present a third of the human population is estimated to be infected. Fortunately, only a relatively small proportion of the infected individuals will progress to active disease, and most will maintain a latent infection. Although a latent infection is clinically silent and not contagious, it can reactivate to cause highly contagious pulmonary tuberculosis, the most prevalent form of the disease in adults. Therefore, a thorough understanding of latency and reactivation may help to develop novel control strategies against tuberculosis. The most widely held view is that the mycobacteria are imprisoned in granulomatous structures during latency, where they can survive in a non-replicating, dormant form until reactivation occurs. However, there is no hard data to sustain that the reactivating mycobacteria are indeed those that laid dormant within the granulomas. In this review an alternative model, based on evidence from early studies, as well as recent reports is presented, in which the latent mycobacteria reside outside granulomas, within non-macrophage cell types throughout the infected body. Potential implications for new diagnostic and vaccine design are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / physiology*
  • Tuberculosis Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / prevention & control*


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Tuberculosis Vaccines