Tuberculosis, which is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M tb), is one of the most important infectious diseases in the world. Although many functional studies have been conducted on M tb proteins in the post-genomic era, little is known about the function of many proteins expressed specifically during latency. Previously, we reported that Rv2041c from M tb H37Rv is highly expressed under conditions of low pH and hypoxia, which represent the in vitro mimicry of latent tuberculosis. In the present study, increased expression levels of Rv2041c under hypoxia and low pH in vitro culture was confirmed by RT-PCR. Interestingly, Rv2041c showed significantly increased expression among genes of the same operon and genes belonging to the same functional group. Finally, the immune responses elicited by the recombinant (r) Rv204lc protein were investigated using ex vivo and in vivo models of M tb infection. A significantly high level of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-12p40 was detected in a dose-dependent manner by treatment of murine bone marrow-derived macrophages with rRv2041c protein. In addition, IFN-γ and TNF-α secretion increased after stimulation with purified Rv204lc protein to lymphocytes from latent and active TB mice in a modified Cornell model. In conclusion, our findings suggest that Rv204lc is a new T-cell antigen and could be a potential vaccine candidate against M tb infection by inducing a strong cellular immune response.
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