Evaluation of the recombinant 38-kilodalton antigen of Mycobacterium tuberculosis as a potential immunodiagnostic reagent

R. J. Wilkinson, K. Hasløv, R. Rappuoli, F. Giovannoni, P. R. Narayanan, C. R. Desai, H. M. Vordermeier, J. Paulsen, G. Pasvol, J. Ivanyi, M. Singh*

*Corresponding author for this work

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79 Citations (SciVal)


The diagnosis of infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis is of increased public health concern following increases in the number of cases in developed countries and major increases in developing countries associated with the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The specificity of purified protein derivative skin testing for the detection of infection is compromised by exposure to environmental mycobacteria. Examination of sputum detects the most infectious patients, but not those with extrapulmonary disease. The 38-kDa antigen of M. tuberculosis contains two M. tuberculosis-specific B-cell epitopes. We overexpressed the gene for this antigen in Escherichia coli and evaluated the recombinant product in in vitro assays of T-cell function and as a target for the antibody response in humans. The sensitivity and specificity of the antigen as a skin test reagent were also assessed in outbred guinea pigs. We found that 69% of healthy sensitized humans recognize the antigen in vitro, as manifested by both cell proliferation and the production of gamma interferon. Untreated patients initially have a lower frequency of response (38%); this recovers to 72% during therapy. A total of 292 patients (20 with HIV coinfection) and 58 controls were examined for production of antibody to the 38-kDa antigen by using a commercially available kit. The sensitivity of the test in comparison with that of culture was 72.6%, and the specificity was 94.9%. The antigen was also tested for its ability to induce skin reactions in outbred guinea pigs sensitized by various mycobacterial species. The antigen provoked significant skin reactions in M. tuberculosis-, M. bovis BCG-, and M. intracellulare-sensitized animals. The significance of these findings and the usefulness of this antigen in immunodiagnosis are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-557
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Clinical Microbiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 1997


  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections/diagnosis
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial/chemistry
  • Bacteriological Techniques/statistics & numerical data
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques/statistics & numerical data
  • Immunologic Tests/methods
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Interferon-gamma/biosynthesis
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Male
  • Molecular Weight
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis/immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins/chemistry
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Species Specificity
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary/complications


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