Active tuberculosis is characterized by highly differentiated effector memory Th1 cells

Riccardo Arrigucci, Karim Lakehal, Pooja Vir, Deborah Handler, Amy L. Davidow, Rosa Herrera, Julia Dolores Estrada-Guzmán, Yuri Bushkin, Sanjay Tyagi, Alfred A. Lardizabal, Maria Laura Gennaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Despite advances in diagnosing latent Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection (LTBI), we still lack a diagnostic test that differentiates LTBI from active tuberculosis (TB) or predicts the risk of progression to active disease. One reason for the absence of such a test may be the failure of current assays to capture the dynamic complexities of the immune responses associated with various stages of TB, since these assays measure only a single parameter (release of IFN-γ) and rely on prolonged (overnight) T cell stimulation. We describe a novel, semi-automated RNA flow cytometry assay to determine whether immunological differences can be identified between LTBI and active TB. We analyzed antigen-induced expression of Th1 cytokine mRNA after short (2- and 6-h) stimulation with antigen, in the context of memory T cell immunophenotyping. IFNG and TNFA mRNA induction was detectable in CD4+ T cells after only 2 h of ex vivo stimulation. Moreover, IFNG- and TNFA-expressing CD4+ T cells (Th1 cells) were more frequent in active TB than in LTBI, a difference that is undetectable with conventional, protein-based cytokine assays. We also found that active TB was associated with higher ratios of effector memory to central memory Th1 cells than LTBI. This effector memory phenotype of active TB was associated with increased T cell differentiation, as defined by loss of the CD27 marker, but not with T cell exhaustion, as determined by PD-1 abundance. These results indicate that single-cell-based, mRNA measurements may help identify time-dependent, quantitative differences in T cell functional status between latent infection and active tuberculosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2127
JournalFrontiers in immunology
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - Sep 19 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


  • Cytokine
  • FISH-Flow
  • Flow cytometry
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Memory T cells
  • Single-cell gene expression
  • T cell activation


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