Dynamic roles of type I and type II IFNs in early infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis

J Immunol. 2012 Jun 15;188(12):6205-15. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1200255. Epub 2012 May 7.


Although the protective role of type II IFN, or IFN-γ, against Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been established, the effects of type I IFNs are still unclear. One potential confounding factor is the overlap of function between the two signaling pathways. We used mice carrying null mutations in the type I IFNR, type II IFNR, or both and compared their immune responses to those of wild-type mice following aerosol infection with M. tuberculosis. We discovered that, in the absence of a response to IFN-γ, type I IFNs play a nonredundant protective role against tuberculosis. Mice unable to respond to both types of IFNs had more severe lung histopathology for similar bacterial loads and died significantly earlier than did mice with impaired IFN-γ signaling alone. We excluded a role for type I IFN in T cell recruitment, which was IFN-γ dependent, whereas both types of IFNs were required for optimal NK cell recruitment to the lungs. Type I IFN had a time-dependent influence on the composition of lung myeloid cell populations, in particular by limiting the abundance of M. tuberculosis-infected recruited macrophages after the onset of adaptive immunity. We confirmed that response to IFN-γ was essential to control intracellular mycobacterial growth, without any additional effect of type I IFN. Together, our results imply a model in which type I IFN limit the number of target cells that M. tuberculosis can infect in the lungs, whereas IFN-γ enhances their ability to restrict bacterial growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Interferon Type I / immunology*
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / microbiology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / pathology


  • Cytokines
  • Interferon Type I
  • Interferon-gamma