Lsr2 peptides of Mycobacterium leprae show hierarchical responses in lymphoproliferative assays, with selective recognition by patients with anergic lepromatous leprosy.
Lsr2 protein of Mycobacterium leprae was shown earlier to elicit B and T cell responses in leprosy patients (20, 28). Lymphoproliferation to M. leprae and Lsr2 antigens was observed in >70% of tuberculoid (T) patients and in 16 and 34% of lepromatous (L) patients, respectively. We focused on the M. leprae nonresponders in the lepromatous group using 22 synthetic Lsr2 peptides (end-to-end peptides A to F and overlapping peptides p1 to p16) in in vitro T cell responses. A total of 125 leprosy and 13 tuberculosis patients and 19 healthy controls from the area of endemicity (here, healthy controls, or HC) were investigated. The highest responses were observed (67 to 100%) in HC for all peptides except p1 to p3, and the lowest was observed in tuberculosis patients. Significant differences in lymphoproliferation were observed in T, L, and HC groups (analysis of variance [ANOVA], P = 0.000 to 0.015) for all end-to-end peptides except B and for p5 and p7 to p10. Hierarchical recognition between lepromatous and tuberculoid leprosy was noted for p8 (P < 0.05) and between the HC and L groups for p7 to p10, p15, and p16 (P < 0.005 to P < 0.02). Significant lymphoproliferation was observed to peptides A to F and p1 to p9, p11, p12, p15, p16 (P = 0.000 to 0.001) with 40% responding to peptides C and p16 in L patients. Lepromatous patients also showed significantly higher levels of a gamma interferon (IFN-γ) response to peptide C than to other peptides (P < 0.05). Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II bias for peptide recognition was not observed. These studies indicate that Lsr2 has multiple T cell epitopes that induce in vitro T cell responses in the highly infective lepromatous leprosy patients.