Open Access Research article

Expression of M. tuberculosis-induced suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS) 1, SOCS3, FoxP3 and secretion of IL-6 associates with differing clinical severity of tuberculosis

Kiran I Masood1, Martin E Rottenberg2, Naseem Salahuddin3, Muhammad Irfan1, Nisar Rao4, Berit Carow2, Muniba Islam1, Rabia Hussain1 and Zahra Hasan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology and Microbiology, Aga Khan University, P.O. Box 3500, Stadium Road, Karachi, 74800, Pakistan

2 Department of Microbiology and Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

3 Indus Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan

4 OJHA Institute of Chest Diseases, DOW University of Health Sciences, Karachi, Pakistan

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:13  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-13

Published: 15 January 2013



Appropriate immune activation of T cells and macrophages is central for the control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections. IFN-γ stimulated responses are lowered in tuberculosis (TB), while expression of Suppressor of Cytokine Signaling (SOCS) molecules – 1 and 3 and CD4+CD25+FoxP3+T regulatory cells is increased. Here we investigated the association of these molecules in regard to clinical severity of TB.


Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated from patients with pulmonary TB (PTB, n = 33), extra-pulmonary TB (ETB, n = 33) and healthy endemic controls (EC, n = 15). Cases were classified as moderately advanced or far advanced PTB, and less severe or severe disseminated ETB. M. tuberculosis -stimulated IFN-γ, SOCS1, SOCS3 and FoxP3 gene expression and secretion of Th1 and Th2 cytokines was measured. Statistical analysis was performed using Mann–Whitney U, Wilcoxon Rank and Kruskal Wallis non-parametric tests.


In un-stimulated PBMCs, IL-6 (p = 0.018) and IL-10 (p = 0.013) secretion levels were increased in PTB while IL-10 was also increased in ETB (p = 0.003), all in comparison with EC. M. tuberculosis-stimulated IL-6 (p = 0.003) was lowered in ETB as compared with EC. SOCS1 mRNA expression in M. tuberculosis stimulated PBMCs levels in moderately advanced PTB (p = 0.022), far advanced (p = 0.014) PTB, and severe ETB (p = 0.009) were raised as compared with EC. On the other hand, SOCS1 mRNA titers were reduced in less severe ETB, in comparison with severe ETB (p = 0.027) and far advanced PTB (p = 0.016). SOCS3 mRNA accumulation was reduced in far advanced PTB (p = 0.007) and FoxP3 mRNA expression was increased in less severe ETB as compared with EC (p = 0.017).


The lowered SOCS1 mRNA levels in patients with less severe extra-pulmonary TB as compared to those with more severe ETB and PTB may lead to elevated IFN-γ pathway gene expression in the latter group. As localized ETB has shown to be associated with more effective Th1 immunity and adaptive responses, this suggests a role for SOCS1 in determining disease outcome in extra-pulmonary TB.

SOCS molecules; Cytokine regulation; Tuberculosis