Leprosy displays a remarkable spectrum of symptoms correlating with the T-cell-mediated immune reactivity of the host against the causative organism, Mycobacterium leprae1. At one pole of this spectrum are lepromatous leprosy patients showing a M. leprae-specific T-cell unresponsiveness2; at the other are tuberculoid leprosy patients displaying both acquired immunity and delayed-type hypersensitivity against M. leprae which are thought to be conferred by helper T (Th) cells1,3–5. Because well-defined M. leprae antigens are crucial for the prevention and control of leprosy1,6,7, we have cloned M. leprae- reactive T cells (TLC) of the helper phenotype from a tuberculoid leprosy patient. As reported here, these TLC show an unexpected diversity in the recognition of M. leprae and related mycobacteria, which is different from that exhibited by monoclonal antibodies8,9. Half of these TLC are completely or almost M. leprae-specific, whereas the other half are cross-reactive with most or all other mycobacteria. A M. leprae protein of relative molecular mass (Mr) 36,000 (36K) defined by a M. leprae-specific monoclonal antibody7,8,10 stimulates 4 out of 6 TLC tested. Each of these TLC recognizes a different antigenic determinant, one of which is M. leprae-specific. The previous paper describes other M. leprae-specific T-cell clones half of which recognize an epitope on a M. leprae protein of Mr 18 K.
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