Development of immunoassays specific for the diagnosis of tuberculosis requires antigens unique to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In a search for such antigens we tested six proteins encoded by RD1, a region present in M. tuberculosis and virulent M. bovis genomes but missing from the DNA of all substrains of M. bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG). The six proteins (Rv3871, Rv3872, Rv3873, MTSA-10, ESAT-6 and Rv3878) were purified to near-homogeneity from recombinant Escherichia coli. When tested for the ability to elicit antibody responses and delayed type hypersensitivity in tuberculous guinea pigs, only two of six antigens, ESAT-6 and MTSA-10, elicited strong skin reactions, while vigorous antibody responses were observed to all six proteins. When antibody responses to RD1 antigens were evaluated in sera from patients having pulmonary tuberculosis and from control subjects (patients having mycobacterioses other than tuberculosis, and healthy persons), a sizeable proportion (25%) of tuberculosis patients but none of the control subjects, had antibodies against MTSA-10 and/or ESAT-6. We conclude that MTSA-10 and ESAT-6 are promising candidates for immunodiagnostic assays specific for tuberculosis.
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