CD4 T cells are critical for protective immunity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the cause of tuberculosis (TB). Yet to date, TB vaccine candidates that boost antigen-specific CD4 T cells have conferred little or no protection. Here we examined CD4 T cell responses to two leading TB vaccine antigens, ESAT-6 and Ag85B, in Mtb-infected mice and in vaccinated humans with and without underlying Mtb infection. In both species, Mtb infection drove ESAT-6-specific T cells to be more differentiated than Ag85B-specific T cells. The ability of each T cell population to control Mtb in the lungs of mice was restricted for opposite reasons: Ag85B-specific T cells were limited by reduced antigen expression during persistent infection, whereas ESAT-6-specific T cells became functionally exhausted due to chronic antigenic stimulation. Our findings suggest that different vaccination strategies will be required to optimize protection mediated by T cells recognizing antigens expressed at distinct stages of Mtb infection.
Keywords: Ag85B; CD4 T cell; ESAT-6; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; T cell differentiation; antigens; effector T cell; memory T cell; vaccines.
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