Proline-glutamic acid (PE) and proline-proline-glutamic acid (PPE) are related proteins exclusive to Mycobacteria that play diverse roles in modulating critical innate immune pathways. In this study, we observed that the PPE57 protein is associated with the cell wall and is exposed on the cell surface. PPE57 enhances Mycobacterium spp. entering into macrophages and plays a role in macrophage phagocytosis. To explore the underlying mechanism, we demonstrated that PPE57 is able to recognise Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) and further induce macrophage activation by augmenting the expression of several cell surface molecules (CD40, CD80, CD86 and MHC class II) and pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-12p40) within macrophages. These molecules are involved in the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) signalling pathways. We demonstrated that PPE57 effectively polarises T cells to secrete interferon (IFN)-γ and IL-2 and to up-regulate CXCR3 expression in vivo and in vitro, suggesting that this protein may contribute to Th1 polarisation during the immune response. Moreover, recombinant Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) over-expressing PPE57 could provide better protective efficacy against Mycobacterium tuberculosis challenge compared with BCG. Taken together, our data provides several pieces of evidence that PPE57 may regulate innate and adaptive immunity by interacting with TLR2. These findings indicate that PPE57 protein is a potential antigen for the rational design of an efficient vaccine against M. tuberculosis.
Key messages: PPE57 is located on the cell surface and enhances mycobacterium entry into macrophage. PPE57 interacts directly with TLR2 on macrophages. PPE57 plays a key role in the activation of macrophages in a TLR2-dependent manner. PPE57 induces a Th1 immune response via TLR2-mediated macrophage functions. Recombinant BCG over-expressing PPE57 could improve protective efficacy against M. tuberculosis.