Immune responses to the enduring hypoxic response antigen Rv0188 are preferentially detected in Mycobacterium bovis infected cattle with low pathology

The DosR regulon and the Enduring Hypoxic Response (EHR) define a group of M. tuberculosis genes that are specifically induced in bacilli exposed in vitro to conditions thought to mimic the environment encountered by Mycobacteria during latent infection. Although well described in humans, latent mycobacterial infection in cattle remains poorly understood. Thus, the aim of this study was to identify antigens that may potentially disclose cattle with latent M. bovis infection. To this end, we initially screened 57 pools of overlapping peptides representing 4 DosR regulon and 29 EHR antigens for their ability to stimulate an immune response in whole blood from TB-reactor cattle using IFN-γ and IL-2 as readouts. All 4 DosR regulon proteins were poorly recognized (maximum responder frequency of 10%). For the EHR antigens, both IFN-γ and IL-2 revealed similar response hierarchies, with responder frequencies ranging from 54% down to 3% depending on the given EHR antigen. Furthermore, these results demonstrated that responses in the infected cattle were largely IFN-γ biased. To support the concept for their role in latency, we evaluated if EHR antigen responses were associated with lower pathology. The EHR antigen Rv0188 was recognised predominantly in animals presenting with low pathology scores, whereas responses to ESAT-6/CFP-10 or the other EHR antigens tested were prevalent across the pathology spectrum. However, when we determined the production of additional cytokines induced by the M. bovis antigens PPD-B or ESAT-6/CFP-10, we detected significantly greater PPD-B-induced production of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-1β in animals recognizing Rv0188 (i.e. those with limited or no pathology). Thus, these results are consistent with the idea that responses to Rv0188 may identify a subset of animals at early stages of infection or in which disease progression may be limited.