Mycobacterium tuberculosis evades innate host immune responses by parasitizing macrophages and causes significant morbidity and mortality around the world. A mycobacterial antigen that can activate dendritic cells (DCs) and elicit effective host innate immune responses will be vital to the development of an effective TB vaccine. The M. tuberculosis genes PE25/PPE41 encode proteins which have been associated with evasion of the host immune response. We constructed a PE25/PPE41 complex gene via splicing by overlapping extension and expressed it successfully in E. coli. We investigated whether this protein complex could interact with DCs to induce effective host immune responses. The PE25/PPE41 protein complex induced maturation of isolated mouse DCs in vitro, increasing expression of cell surface markers (CD80, CD86 and MHC-II), thereby promoting Th2 polarization via secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-4 and IL-10. In addition, PE25/PPE41 protein complex-activated DCs induced proliferation of mouse CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells, and a strong humoral response in immunized mice. The sera of five TB patients were also highly reactive to this antigen. These findings suggest that interaction of the PE25/PPE41 protein complex with DCs may be of great immunological significance.
Keywords: Dendritic cell; Immune response; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; PE25/PPE41 protein complex; Th2 polarization.