Background: Appropriate immune activation of T cells and macrophages is central for the control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections. IFN-γ stimulated responses are lowered in tuberculosis (TB), while expression of Suppressor of Cytokine Signaling (SOCS) molecules - 1 and 3 and CD4+CD25+FoxP3+T regulatory cells is increased. Here we investigated the association of these molecules in regard to clinical severity of TB.
Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated from patients with pulmonary TB (PTB, n = 33), extra-pulmonary TB (ETB, n = 33) and healthy endemic controls (EC, n = 15). Cases were classified as moderately advanced or far advanced PTB, and less severe or severe disseminated ETB. M. tuberculosis -stimulated IFN-γ, SOCS1, SOCS3 and FoxP3 gene expression and secretion of Th1 and Th2 cytokines was measured. Statistical analysis was performed using Mann-Whitney U, Wilcoxon Rank and Kruskal Wallis non-parametric tests.
Results: In un-stimulated PBMCs, IL-6 (p = 0.018) and IL-10 (p = 0.013) secretion levels were increased in PTB while IL-10 was also increased in ETB (p = 0.003), all in comparison with EC. M. tuberculosis-stimulated IL-6 (p = 0.003) was lowered in ETB as compared with EC. SOCS1 mRNA expression in M. tuberculosis stimulated PBMCs levels in moderately advanced PTB (p = 0.022), far advanced (p = 0.014) PTB, and severe ETB (p = 0.009) were raised as compared with EC. On the other hand, SOCS1 mRNA titers were reduced in less severe ETB, in comparison with severe ETB (p = 0.027) and far advanced PTB (p = 0.016). SOCS3 mRNA accumulation was reduced in far advanced PTB (p = 0.007) and FoxP3 mRNA expression was increased in less severe ETB as compared with EC (p = 0.017).
Conclusions: The lowered SOCS1 mRNA levels in patients with less severe extra-pulmonary TB as compared to those with more severe ETB and PTB may lead to elevated IFN-γ pathway gene expression in the latter group. As localized ETB has shown to be associated with more effective Th1 immunity and adaptive responses, this suggests a role for SOCS1 in determining disease outcome in extra-pulmonary TB.