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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Engrafted human cells generate adaptive immune responses to Mycobacterium bovis BCG infection in humanized mice

Jinhee Lee1*, Michael A Brehm2, Dale Greiner2, Leonard D Shultz3 and Hardy Kornfeld1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA

2 Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA

3 The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME, USA

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BMC Immunology 2013, 14:53  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-14-53

Published: 7 December 2013

Abstract

Background

Currently used mouse models fail to fully reflect human immunity to tuberculosis (TB), which hampers progress in research and vaccine development. Bone marrow-liver-thymus (BLT) mice, generated by engrafting human fetal liver, thymus, and hematopoietic stem cells in severely immunodeficient NOD/SCID/IL-2Rγ-/- (NSG) mice, have shown potential to model human immunity to infection. We engrafted HLA-A2-positive fetal tissues into NSG mice transgenically expressing human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A2.1 (NSG-A2) to generate NSG-A2-BLT mice and characterized their human immune response to Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) infection to assess the utility of this model for investigating human TB.

Results

NSG-A2-BLT mice were infected intravenously with BCG and the immune response of engrafted human immune cells was characterized. After ex vivo antigenic stimulation of splenocytes, interferon (IFN)-γ-producing cells were detected by ELISPOT from infected, but not uninfected NSG-A2-BLT mice. However, the levels of secreted IFN-γ, determined by ELISA, were not significantly elevated by antigenic stimulation. NSG-A2-BLT mice were susceptible to BCG infection as determined by higher lung bacillary load than the non-engrafted control NSG-A2 mice. BCG-infected NSG-A2-BLT mice developed lung lesions composed mostly of human macrophages and few human CD4+ or CD8+ T cells. The lesions did not resemble granulomas typical of human TB.

Conclusions

Engrafted human immune cells in NSG-A2-BLT mice showed partial function of innate and adaptive immune systems culminating in antigen-specific T cell responses to mycobacterial infection. The lack of protection was associated with low IFN-γ levels and limited numbers of T cells recruited to the lesions. The NSG-A2-BLT mouse is capable of mounting a human immune response to M. tuberculosis in vivo but a quantitatively and possibly qualitatively enhanced effector response will be needed to improve the utility of this model for TB research.

Keywords:
Animal model; BCG; Tuberculosis; BLT mice; NSG mice