Open Access Open Badges Research article

Cytotoxic response persists in subjects treated for tuberculosis decades ago

Laura E Savolainen1*, Pekka Koskivirta1, Anu Kantele123, Heikki Valleala4, Liana Pusa5, Riitta Tuompo4, Benita Westerlund-Wikström6 and Tamara Tuuminen17

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki, PL 21, Helsinki 00014, Finland

2 Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

3 Institute of Clinical Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

4 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

5 Länsi-Uusimaa Hospital, Tammisaari, Finland

6 Division of General Microbiology, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

7 Eastern Finland Laboratory Centre Joint Authority Enterprise, Mikkeli, Finland

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:573  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-573

Published: 5 December 2013



Data exploring the potential use of effector molecules produced by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in the immunodiagnostics of tuberculosis (TB) are scarce. The present study focused a) to gain an insight into the discriminatory power of CTLs in patients with acute pulmonary or extra-pulmonary TB, or latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI); and b) to evaluate the influence of various anti-TB therapeutic schemes on the immunological profiles of residual CTLs.


Immunological signatures of antigen-specific CTLs were explored in patients with active pulmonary and extra-pulmonary TB, LTBI and in those treated for TB decades ago by using ELISPOT, intracellular flow cytometry and extracellular CD107a detection.


No difference was seen between active TB, LTBI or any of those treated for TB in the ELISPOT analysis of antigen-specific Granzyme B (GrB), Perforin (Prf) and interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) producing lymphocytes, the FACS analysis of the intracellular expression of IFN-γ, or the surface expression of CD107a degranulation factor of both CD8+ and CD4+ antigen-specific T cell subsets. The effector memory (TEM) phenotype proved predominant in the surface marker profiling both in active TB and LTBI. The proportion of the CD107a degranulation factor proved higher in the central memory (TCM) than in the other cell subsets in all the study groups. Interestingly, functionally and phenotypically similar CTLs profiles were observed in active TB, LTBI and in all the three groups treated for TB.


The phenotypic and functional profiling of CTLs has a limited potential in the immunodiagnostics of active TB. Antigen-specific CTLs persist in patients treated for TB decades ago regardless of the efficacy of implemented and completed anti-TB therapy.

Tuberculosis; CTLs; Immunodiagnostics; Granzyme B; CD107a; Perforin; Memory T cells