Microbial virulence and cytokine-mediated immune responses to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection are important determinants of the pathogenesis of human tuberculosis. To determine the interrelationship between mycobacterial virulence and cytokine induction, human monocytes and monocyte-derived macrophages were infected with attenuated (H37Ra) and virulent (H37Rv and CH306) strains of M. tuberculosis and the amount of proinflammatory [interleukin (IL)-8 and monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP)- 1] and inhibitory (IL- 10) cytokines was measured in the culture supernatants by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Infection with live bacilli induced de novo synthesis of IL-8, MCP-1 and IL-10, since cytokine release was abolished when cells were preincubated with the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide. A differential production of antiinflammatory and inhibitory cytokines was observed. The amount of IL-8 and MCP-1 release was inversely related to strain virulence, the attenuated H37Ra strain being more prone than virulent strains to induce secretion of chemokines. In contrast, virulent strains induced greater amounts of the inhibitory cytokine IL-10. Efficient upregulation of IL-10 synthesis, but not of chemokines, required infection of cells with live bacilli, since heat killing of organisms or challenge with soluble mycobacterial products completely abrogated the effect. Moreover, cells infected with virulent strains produced IL-10 even at a very low bacillus-to-cell ratio and secreted IL-10 continuously during the 96 h that followed infection. The results suggest that the degree of virulence affects host cell responses to M. tuberculosis infection. Continued production of IL-10 may be one of the means by which M. tuberculosis downregulates acute local inflammatory reactions, favoring the development of tuberculosis.
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