An in vitro model of Mycobacterium leprae induced granuloma formation.
BACKGROUND: Leprosy is a contagious and chronic systemic granulomatous disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. In the pathogenesis of leprosy, granulomas play a key role, however, the mechanisms of the formation and maintenance of M. leprae granulomas are still not clearly understood.
METHODS: To better understand the molecular physiology of M. leprae granulomas and the interaction between the bacilli and human host cells, we developed an in vitro model of human granulomas, which mimicked the in vivo granulomas of leprosy. Macrophages were differentiated from human monocytes, and infected with M. leprae, and then cultured with autologous human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs).
RESULTS: Robust granuloma-like aggregates were obtained only when the M. leprae infected macrophages were co-cultured with PBMCs. Histological examination showed M. leprae within the cytoplasmic center of the multinucleated giant cells, and these bacilli were metabolically active. Macrophages of both M1 and M2 types co-existed in the granuloma like aggregates. There was a strong relationship between the formation of granulomas and changes in the expression levels of cell surface antigens on macrophages, cytokine production and the macrophage polarization. The viability of M. leprae isolated from granulomas indicated that the formation of host cell aggregates benefited the host, but the bacilli also remained metabolically active.
CONCLUSIONS: A simple in vitro model of human M. leprae granulomas was established using human monocyte-derived macrophages and PBMCs. This system may be useful to unravel the mechanisms of disease progression, and subsequently develop methods to control leprosy.