Spatial Organization and Recruitment of Non-Specific T Cells May Limit T Cell-Macrophage Interactions Within Mycobacterium tuberculosis Granulomas

Front Immunol. 2021 Jan 20;11:613638. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.613638. eCollection 2020.


Tuberculosis (TB) is a worldwide health problem; successful interventions such as vaccines and treatment require a 2better understanding of the immune response to infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). In many infectious diseases, pathogen-specific T cells that are recruited to infection sites are highly responsive and clear infection. Yet in the case of infection with Mtb, most individuals are unable to clear infection leading to either an asymptomatically controlled latent infection (the majority) or active disease (roughly 5%-10% of infections). The hallmark of Mtb infection is the recruitment of immune cells to lungs leading to development of multiple lung granulomas. Non-human primate models of TB indicate that on average <10% of T cells within granulomas are Mtb-responsive in terms of cytokine production. The reason for this reduced responsiveness is unknown and it may be at the core of why humans typically are unable to clear Mtb infection. There are a number of hypotheses as to why this reduced responsiveness may occur, including T cell exhaustion, direct downregulation of antigen presentation by Mtb within infected macrophages, the spatial organization of the granuloma itself, and/or recruitment of non-Mtb-specific T cells to lungs. We use a systems biology approach pairing data and modeling to dissect three of these hypotheses. We find that the structural organization of granulomas as well as recruitment of non-specific T cells likely contribute to reduced responsiveness.

Keywords: Mycobacterium tuberculosis; T cell; computational model; granuloma; lung; macrophage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Granuloma, Respiratory Tract / immunology*
  • Granuloma, Respiratory Tract / microbiology
  • Lung / immunology
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology*
  • Primates
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / microbiology


  • Cytokines