A mycolic acid-specific CD1-restricted T cell population contributes to acute and memory immune responses in human tuberculosis infection

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • DJ Montamat-Sicotte
  • KA Millington
  • S Hingley-Wilson
  • S Hackforth
  • J Innes
  • OM Kon
  • A Lalvani


Current tuberculosis (TB) vaccine strategies are largely aimed at activating conventional T cell responses to mycobacterial protein antigens. However, the lipid-rich cell wall of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis) is essential for pathogenicity and provides targets for unconventional T cell recognition. Group 1 CD1-restricted T cells recognize mycobacterial lipids, but their function in human TB is unclear and their ability to establish memory is unknown. Here, we characterized T cells specific for mycolic acid (MA), the predominant mycobacterial cell wall lipid and key virulence factor, in patients with active TB infection. MA-specific T cells were predominant in TB patients at diagnosis, but were absent in uninfected bacillus Calmette-Guerin-vaccinated (BCG-vaccinated) controls. These T cells were CD1b restricted, detectable in blood and disease sites, produced both IFN-gamma and IL-2, and exhibited effector and central memory phenotypes. MA-specific responses contracted markedly with declining pathogen burden and, in patients followed longitudinally, exhibited recall expansion upon antigen reencounter in vitro long after successful treatment, indicative of lipid-specific immunological memory. T cell recognition of MA is therefore a significant component of the acute adaptive and memory immune response in TB, suggesting that mycobacterial lipids may be promising targets for improved TB vaccines.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2493-2503
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011