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The molecular determinants of the immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis HN878 infection in a rabbit model of pulmonary cavitary tuberculosis were studied. Aerosol infection of rabbits resulted in a highly differentially expressed global transcriptome in the lungs at 2 weeks, which dropped at 4 weeks and then gradually increased. While IFNγ was progressively upregulated throughout the infection, several other genes in the IFNγ network were not. T-cell activation network genes were gradually upregulated and maximally induced at 12 weeks. Similarly, the IL4 and B-cell activation networks were progressively upregulated, many reaching high levels between 12 and 16 weeks. Delayed peak expression of genes associated with macrophage activation and Th1 type immunity was noted. Although spleen CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells showed maximal tuberculosis antigen-specific activation by 8 weeks, macrophage activation in lungs, lymph nodes and spleen did not peak until 12 weeks. In the lungs, infecting bacilli grew exponentially up to 4 weeks, followed by a steady-state high bacillary load to 12 weeks that moderately increased during cavitation at 16 weeks. Thus, the outcome of HN878 infection of rabbits was determined early during infection by a suboptimal activation of innate immunity and delayed T-cell activation.


This article was originally published in Open Biology, available at DOI: 10.1098/rsob.110016.

Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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