London: Immune response to the tuberculosis bacterium varies between patients of different ethnic origin, raising important implications for the development of tests to
diagnose and monitor treatment for the disease.
The study, led by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, in collaboration with the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), analysed the immune response of 128 newly-diagnosed TB patients in London who were divided by ethnicity into those of African (45), European (27), Asian (55) or mixed European/Asian (1) ancestry.
TB remains a major global health problem, responsible for nearly nine million new cases and 1.4 million deaths in 2011, researchers said.
By analysing the levels of various inflammatory markers in blood samples taken before treatment, the scientists showed that immune responses of Asians and Europeans were similar to each other, but different from those of Africans.
This difference was caused by ethnic variation in the patients' genetic make-up and was not related to the strain of TB bacterium that the patients were infected with.
"The TB bacterium has co-evolved with humans following migration to Europe and Asia some 70,000 years ago, and different strains of the TB bacterium disproportionately infect particular ethnic groups," Dr Adrian Martineau, Reader
in Respiratory Infection and Immunity at the Blizard Institute, part of Queen Mary, who led the research, said.
Experiments with white blood cells cultured in the lab have shown that different strains of the TB bacterium elicit different amounts of inflammation.
One might therefore expect that TB patients' immune responses would differ according to the strain of TB bacterium that they are infected with.
"However our study has shown, for the first time, that it is actually ethnic differences in the patient's genetic make-up that cause most of this variation in immune responses
– with little effect of the TB strain they are infected with," researchers said.
By analysing blood samples taken from 85 of the original cohort after an eight-week period of intensive treatment, the researchers found that ethnic variation in immune responses became even more marked.
A number of immunological bio-markers, which correlated with either fast or slow clearance of the TB bacteria, were identified and found to differ between Africans and
Europeans/Asians, researchers said.
The study was published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens.