A quantitative analysis of complexity of human pathogen-specific CD4 T cell responses in healthy M. tuberculosis infected South Africans

Author Summary: Human pathogen-specific immune responses are tremendously complex and the techniques to study them ever expanding. There is an urgent need for a quantitative analysis and better understanding of pathogen-specific immune responses. Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is one of the leading causes of mortality due to an infectious agent worldwide. Here, we were able to quantify the Mtb-specific response in healthy individuals with Mtb infection from South Africa. The response is highly diverse and 66 epitopes are required to capture 80% of the total reactivity. Our study also show that the majority of the identified epitopes are restricted by multiple HLA alleles. Thus, technical advances are required to capture and characterize the complete pathogen-specific response. This study demonstrates further that the approach combining identified epitopes into "megapools" allows capturing a large fraction of the total reactivity. This suggests that this technique is generally applicable to the characterization of immunity to other complex pathogens. Together, our data provide for the first time a quantitative analysis of the complex pathogen-specific T cell response and provide a new understanding of human infections in a natural infection setting.