The pathogenesis of tuberculous meningitis, a devastating complication of tuberculosis in man, is poorly understood. We previously reported that rabbits with experimental tuberculous meningitis were protected from death by a combination of antibiotics and thalidomide therapy. Survival was associated with inhibition of tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) production by thalidomide. To test whether cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of TNF-α correlated with pathogenesis, the response of rabbits infected in the central nervous system (CNS) with various mycobacterial strains was studied. CNS infection with Mycobacterium bovis Ravenel, M. bovis bacillus Calmette- Guerin (BCG) Pasteur, and M. bovis BCG Montreal were compared. M. bovis Ravenel induced the highest levels of TNF-α in the CSF in association with high leukocytosis, protein accumulation, and severe meningeal inflammation. BCG Pasteur had intermediate effects, and BCG Montreal was the least virulent. In addition, M. bovis Ravenel numbers were highest in the brain and CSF and the bacilli also disseminated more efficiently to distant organs, compared with BCG Pasteur and BCG Montreal. In subsequent experiments, rabbits were infected with either recombinant M. bovis BCG Montreal (vector), or BCG Montreal expressing the murine gene for TNF-α (BCG mTNF-α). BCG Montreal was rendered virulent by the expression of murine TNF-α, as demonstrated by high CSF leukocytosis, high protein accumulation, severe meningeal inflammation, persistent bacillary load, and progressive clinical deterioration. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the level of TNF-α produced during mycobacterial CNS infection determines, at least in part, the extent of pathogenesis.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
|Published - May 11 1999
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