In vivo responses to Mycobacterium leprae: Antigen presentation, interleukin-2 production, and immune cell phenotypes in naturally occurring leprosy lesions
To investigate the immune defect in lepromatous leprosy we studied immune cell phenotypes, lymphocyte activation states, and interleukin-2 (IL-2) production in naturally occurring leprosy skin lesions. Mouse hybridoma monoclonal antibodies reacting with the IL-2 receptor (anti-Tac), unbound IL-2 (DMS-1), antigen-presenting Langerhans' cells (OKT6) and the OKT4-Leu3 and OKT8 T-lymphocyte subpopulations were used with indirect horseradish peroxidase and alkaline phosphatase techniques on frozen biopsy sections. The percentage of Tac+ lymphocytes and the number of OKT6+ cells in the epidermis and dermal granuloma were significantly correlated in naturally occurring lesions (correlation coefficient 0.79) and were higher in tuberculoid than in lepromatous lesions. Leu3 antigen was expressed by 70-90% of Tac+ cells in tuberculoid lesions. Although the percentage of cells producing IL-2 was low in lesions of both lepromatous and tuberculoid patients, it was about 15 times greater in tuberculoid than in lepromatous lesions (0.032 +/- 0.037 tuberculoid vs 0.0019 +/- 0.023 lepromatous). There was an association between the number of OKT6+ cells and the percentage of IL-2-producing cells, but the association was weaker than that of OKT6+ cells and the percentage of IL-2 receptor-bearing cells (r = 0.2), implying that IL-2 production is not an intervening variable in the latter association. The absolute number of OKT4-Leu3+ lymphocytes was significantly different in different clinical leprosy groups and was positively correlated with host resistance (mean OKT4-Leu3+ cells/mm2 in 6 micron sections; 1412 +/- 288 tuberculoid, 400 +/- 93 borderline lepromatous, 200 +/- 100 polar lepromatous; r = 0.95). Absolute numbers of OKT8+ cells/mm2 in lesions were not significantly different. We conclude that there is a relative paucity of OKT4-Leu3+ cells as well as IL-2-producing cells at the local level in lepromatous leprosy lesions. Possible functional relationships between these findings and the failure of macrophage activation and destruction of Mycobacterium leprae in lepromatous leprosy are discussed.