Back to search

Human phagocytic cell responses to Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guérin. An in vitro comparison of leprosy vaccine components.


Components of current vaccines for Hansen's disease include Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) and killed Mycobacterium leprae. BCG infections in humans are rare and most often occur in immune-compromised individuals. M. leprae on the other hand, although not causing clinical disease in most exposed individuals, is capable of infecting and replicating within mononuclear phagocytes. Lymphocytes from patients with the lepromatous form of Hansen's disease exhibit defective lymphokine production when challenged in vitro with M. leprae. This may result in inefficient mononuclear phagocyte activation for oxidative killing. To study the ability of normal phagocytes to ingest and respond oxidatively to BCG and M. leprae, we measured phagocytic cell O2- release and fluorescent oxidative product formation and visually confirmed the ingestion of the organisms. BCG stimulated a vigorous O2- generation in neutrophils and monocytes and flow cytometric oxidative product generation by neutrophils occurred in the majority of cells. M. leprae, stimulated a weak but significant O2- release requiring a high concentration of organisms and long exposure. By flow cytometric analysis, most neutrophils were able to respond to both organisms with the generation of fluorescent oxidative products. Neutrophil oxidative responses to M. leprae were substantially less than responses seen from neutrophils exposed to BCG. By microscopic examination of neutrophils phagocytizing FITC-labeled bacteria, it was shown that both M. leprae and BCG were slowly ingested but that more BCG appeared to be associated with the cell membrane of more of the cells. When phagocytic cells were incubated with BCG and M. leprae for 30 min and subsequently examined by electron microscopy, few organisms were seen in either neutrophils or monocytes. This suggests that BCG are easily recognized and slowly ingested by normal phagocytic cells, the majority of which respond with a strong oxidative burst. M. leprae appeared to only weakly stimulate phagocyte oxidative responses and were also slowly phagocytized.

More information

Journal Article
Holzer T J
Kizlaitis L
Vachula M
Weaver C W
Andersen B R

More publications on: