The development of improved vaccines against Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been hindered by a limited understanding of the immune correlates of anti-tuberculosis protective immunity. In this study, we examined the relationship between long-term anti-tuberculosis protection and the mycobacterial-specific CD4 multifunctional T (MFT) cell responses induced by five different TB vaccines (live-attenuated, subunit, viral vectored, plasmid DNA, and combination vaccines) in a mouse model of pulmonary tuberculosis. In a 14-month experiment, we showed that TB vaccine-induced CD4 T cell responses were heterogenous. Antigen-specific monofunctional CD4 T cells expressing single cytokines and MFT CD4 T cells expressing multiple cytokines (IFN-γ and TNF-α, IFN-γ and IFN-γ, TNF-α, and IL-2, and all three cytokines) were identified after the immunizations. Interestingly, compared to the monofunctional cells, significantly higher median fluorescent intensities (MFIs) for IFN-γ and TNF-α were detected for triple-positive MFT CD4 T cells induced by the most protective vaccines while modest differences in relative MFI values were seen for the less protective preparations. Most importantly during the 14-month study, the levels of vaccine-induced pulmonary and splenic protective immunity correlated with the frequency and the integrated MFI (iMFI, frequency×MFI) values of triple-positive CD4 T cells that were induced by the same vaccines. These data support efforts to use MFT cell analyses as a measure of TB vaccine immunogenicity in human immunization studies.
Published by Elsevier Ltd.