We need to understand what is different about susceptibility to tuberculosis (TB) in developing countries where most TB occurs, and where the current vaccine, Bacillus Calmette et Guerin (BCG) usually fails to protect. The presence of a background mixed IFN-γ and Th2 response to mycobacterial antigens before infection with M. tuberculosis (Mtb), and the development of a large IL-4 response during progressive TB, are characteristics of individuals in the locations where BCG fails, which are also seen in animal models in the same countries. Recent data suggest that the background Th1 component in developing countries protects from low dose challenge with Mtb in mouse and man, but that following high dose challenge the pre-existing IL-4 component increases and blocks immunity unless the individuals immune system releases IL-4δ2, an antagonist of IL-4, which is raised in the blood of donors with stable latent TB. We outline how IL-4 (and IL-13) can undermine Th1-mediated immunity and drive inappropriate alternative activation of macrophages. The mechanisms of the effects of IL-4 include impaired antimicrobial activity due to reduced TNF-α-mediated apoptosis of infected cells, reduced activity of iNOS, increased availability of iron to intracellular Mtb, and increased proliferation of antigen-specific FOXP-3+ regulatory T cells. IL-4 also increases the toxicity of TNF-α and drives pulmonary fibrosis, thus enhancing immunopathology. The conclusion is that a vaccine that will work in developing countries might need to do more than enhance the existing Th1 response. In these environments it might be more important to block the Th2 component.
IL-4, IL-4delta2, protective immunity, tuberculosis
Centre for Infectious Diseases and International Health, Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, 46 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JF, UK.