Conserved immune recognition hierarchy of mycobacterial PE/PPE proteins during infection in natural hosts

Abstract

The Mycobacterium tuberculosis genome contains two large gene families encoding proteins of unknown function, characterized by conserved N-terminal proline and glutamate (PE and PPE) motifs. The presence of a large number of PE/PPE proteins with repetitive domains and evidence of strain variation has given rise to the suggestion that these proteins may play a role in immune evasion via antigenic variation, while emerging data suggests that some family members may play important roles in mycobacterial pathogenesis. In this study, we examined cellular immune responses to a panel of 36 PE/PPE proteins during human and bovine infection. We observed a distinct hierarchy of immune recognition, reflected both in the repertoire of PE/PPE peptide recognition in individual cows and humans and in the magnitude of IFN-gamma responses elicited by stimulation of sensitized host cells. The pattern of immunodominance was strikingly similar between cattle that had been experimentally infected with Mycobacterium bovis and humans naturally infected with clinical isolates of M. tuberculosis. The same pattern was maintained as disease progressed throughout a four-month course of infection in cattle, and between humans with latent as well as active tuberculosis. Detailed analysis of PE/PPE responses at the peptide level suggests that antigenic cross-reactivity amongst related family members is a major determinant in the observed differences in immune hierarchy. Taken together, these results demonstrate that a subset of PE/PPE proteins are major targets of the cellular immune response to tuberculosis, and are recognized at multiple stages of infection and in different disease states. Thus this work identifies a number of novel antigens that could find application in vaccine development, and provides new insights into PE/PPE biology.

Journal details

Journal PLOS ONE
Volume 7
Issue number 8
Pages e40890
Publication date

Keywords