Ex vivo cytokine mRNA levels correlate with changing clinical status of ethiopian TB patients and their contacts over time

PLoS One. 2008 Jan 30;3(1):e1522. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001522.


There is an increasing body of evidence which suggests that IL-4 plays a role in the pathogenesis of TB, but a general consensus on its role remains elusive. We have previously published data from a cohort of Ethiopian TB patients, their contacts, and community controls suggesting that enhanced IL-4 production is associated with infection with M. tuberculosis, rather than overt disease and that long-term protection in infected community controls is associated with co-production of the IL-4 antagonist IL-4d2, alongside elevated IL-4. Here, for the first time, we compare data on expression of IFN-gamma, IL-4 and IL-4delta2 over time in TB patients and their household contacts. During the follow-up period, the TB patients completed therapy and ceased to display TB-like symptoms. This correlated with a decrease in the relative amount of IL-4 expressed. Over the same period, the clinical status of some of their contacts also changed, with a number developing TB-like symptoms or clinically apparent TB. IL-4 expression was disproportionately increased in this group. The findings support the hypothesis that elevated IL-4 production is generally associated with infection, but that TB disease is associated with a relatively increased expression of IL-4 compared to IFN-gamma and IL-4delta2. However, the data also suggest that there are no clear-cut differences between groups: the immune response over time appears to include changes in the expression of IFN-gamma, IL-4 and IL-4delta2, and it is the relative, not absolute levels of cytokine expression that are characteristic of clinical status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cytokines / genetics*
  • Ethiopia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tuberculosis / blood*
  • Tuberculosis / pathology


  • Cytokines
  • RNA, Messenger