Role of Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor Production by T Cells during Mycobacterium tuberculosis Infection

mBio. 2017 Oct 24;8(5):e01514-17. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01514-17.


Mice deficient for granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF-/-) are highly susceptible to infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and clinical data have shown that anti-GM-CSF neutralizing antibodies can lead to increased susceptibility to tuberculosis in otherwise healthy people. GM-CSF activates human and murine macrophages to inhibit intracellular M. tuberculosis growth. We have previously shown that GM-CSF produced by iNKT cells inhibits growth of M. tuberculosis However, the more general role of T cell-derived GM-CSF during infection has not been defined and how GM-CSF activates macrophages to inhibit bacterial growth is unknown. Here we demonstrate that, in addition to nonconventional T cells, conventional T cells also produce GM-CSF during M. tuberculosis infection. Early during infection, nonconventional iNKT cells and γδ T cells are the main source of GM-CSF, a role subsequently assumed by conventional CD4+ T cells as the infection progresses. M. tuberculosis-specific T cells producing GM-CSF are also detected in the peripheral blood of infected people. Under conditions where nonhematopoietic production of GM-CSF is deficient, T cell production of GM-CSF is protective and required for control of M. tuberculosis infection. However, GM-CSF is not required for T cell-mediated protection in settings where GM-CSF is produced by other cell types. Finally, using an in vitro macrophage infection model, we demonstrate that GM-CSF inhibition of M. tuberculosis growth requires the expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ). Thus, we identified GM-CSF production as a novel T cell effector function. These findings suggest that a strategy augmenting T cell production of GM-CSF could enhance host resistance against M. tuberculosisIMPORTANCEMycobacterium tuberculosis is the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, the leading cause of death by any infection worldwide. T cells are critical components of the immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis While gamma interferon (IFN-γ) is a key effector function of T cells during infection, a failed phase IIb clinical trial and other studies have revealed that IFN-γ production alone is not sufficient to control M. tuberculosis In this study, we demonstrate that CD4+, CD8+, and nonconventional T cells produce GM-CSF during Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in mice and in the peripheral blood of infected humans. Under conditions where other sources of GM-CSF are absent, T cell production of GM-CSF is protective and is required for control of infection. GM-CSF activation of macrophages to limit bacterial growth requires host expression of the transcription factor PPARγ. The identification of GM-CSF production as a T cell effector function may inform future host-directed therapy or vaccine designs.

Keywords: GM-CSF; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; T cells; cytokines; lung infection; macrophages.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / biosynthesis*
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / genetics
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Lung / immunology
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / microbiology
  • Mice
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology*
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis / prevention & control


  • PPAR gamma
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor