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Mononuclear cell dynamics in M. tuberculosis infection provide opportunities for therapeutic intervention


Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes chronic infection of mononuclear phagocytes, especially resident (alveolar) macrophages, recruited macrophages, and dendritic cells. Despite the importance of these cells in tuberculosis (TB) pathogenesis and immunity, little is known about the population dynamics of these cells at the sites of infection. We used a combination of congenic monocyte adoptive transfer, and pulse-chase labeling of DNA, to determine the kinetics and characteristics of trafficking, differentiation, and infection of mononuclear phagocytes during the chronic, adaptive immune phase of M. tuberculosis infection in mice. We found that Ly6Chi monocytes traffic rapidly to the lungs, where a subpopulation become Ly6Clo and remain in the lung vascular space, while the remainder migrate into the lung parenchyma and differentiate into Ly6Chi dendritic cells, CD11b+ dendritic cells, and recruited macrophages. As in humans with TB, M. tuberculosis-infected mice have increased numbers of blood monocytes; this is due to increased egress from the bone marrow, and not delayed egress from the blood. Pulse-chase labeling of dividing cells and flow cytometry analysis revealed a T1/2 of ~15 hrs for Ly6Chi monocytes, indicating that they differentiate rapidly upon entry to the parenchyma of infected lungs; in contrast, cells that differentiate from Ly6Chi monocytes turn over more slowly, but diminish in frequency in less than one week. New cells (identified by pulse-chase labeling) acquire bacteria within 1-3 days of appearance in the lungs, indicating that bacteria regularly encounter new cellular niches, even during the chronic stage of infection. Our findings that mononuclear phagocyte populations at the site of M. tuberculosis infection are highly dynamic provide support for specific approaches for host-directed therapies directed at monocytes, including trained immunity, as potential interventions in TB, by replacing cells with limited antimycobacterial capabilities with newly-recruited cells better able to restrict and kill M. tuberculosis.

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