June 8, 2021

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infectious disease that typically affects the lungs. Spread of TB typically occurs in the air via coughs or sneezes. Treatment often poses a challenge to immunologists, as it represents a chronic infection characterized by persistence of the pathogen despite development of antigen-specific immune responses.

Researchers at Emory University and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center have completed the first study to report on temporal dynamics of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb)-specific T cell responses in latent Mtb infection. With it, they discovered the T cell response emerged as early as three weeks post infection and continued throughout the six-month study. 

“Because TB is the leading infectious disease killer, claiming 1.5 million lives every year, we want to know why some people who are infected with Mtb progress to TB disease while others remain asymptomatic and do not,” says Jyothi Rengarajan, PhD, lead author and associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine and a researcher at the Emory Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. 

Because TB is difficult to assess in humans, researchers worked with primates because they develop and respond to the disease much like humans do

Rengarajan states, “Monkeys develop and respond to latent TB infection similar to the way humans do, which makes them an excellent translational model for studying the immunological basis for asymptomatic TB and then applying the results to humans and animals.”

Findings proved the rapid response of T cells, and knowing where to activate them (lungs versus blood) will help researchers create better treatments and even a vaccine to prevent TB infections.

NPRC researchers are working to find new potential treatments and cures for this infectious disease. Take a look at some of our other recent studies to learn about the progress we’ve made toward a TB-free world.

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