The End of the Binary Era: Revisiting the Spectrum of Tuberculosis

J Immunol. 2018 Nov 1;201(9):2541-2548. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1800993.


Human Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection was thought to result in either active symptomatic tuberculosis (TB) or latent asymptomatic infection. It is now clear that this binary classification is insufficient to describe the myriad of infection outcomes. In active TB, symptomatic disease can be mild to severe, with a range of lung and thoracic lymph node involvement or extrapulmonary manifestations. Most humans control the infection and develop latent TB infection, with differential risks of reactivation to active TB. However, some frequently exposed persons appear to be resistant to infection, whereas others may initially become infected yet subsequently eliminate all bacilli. The immunologic factors influencing these varied outcomes are still not clear, but likely involve a range of different responses. In this article, we review the data supporting the spectrum of M. tuberculosis infection in humans as well as data in nonhuman primates that allow dissection of the immune responses leading to the varied outcomes of infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology
  • Disease Resistance / immunology*
  • Granuloma, Respiratory Tract / microbiology*
  • Granuloma, Respiratory Tract / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / microbiology
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / pathology


  • Antigens, Bacterial