Impact of age and sex on mycobacterial immunity in an area of high tuberculosis incidence
SETTING: The extent of immune reactivity measured by the tuberculin skin test (TST) and interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) T-cell assays is usually not analysed. OBJECTIVE: To determine the impact of age and sex on assay positivity and on the extent of reactivity of both TST and T-cell assays in young persons in an area of South Africa with high TB transmission. RESULTS: Age had a strong impact on assay positivity for all seven immune phenotypes tested (P < 0.0007). Among positive responders, the extent of purified protein derivative (PPD) triggered IFN-γ release (P < 0.003) was sensitive to age. ESAT-6 triggered IFN-γ release (day 7, P = 0.03) and the frequency of PPD-specific IFN-γ+CD4+ (P = 0.03) and IFN-γ+CD8+ cells (P = 0.04) were weakly dependent on age. By contrast, the extent of TST induration was insensitive to age (P > 0.05), and sex had no significant impact on any phenotype measured (P > 0.05). The high proportion of positive responders in the 1-10 year age-group observed with long-term whole blood assays, but not with 3-day assays and TST, suggests that long-term whole blood assays may be confounded by bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccination in this age group. CONCLUSION: There is a significant impact of age, but not sex, on different assays of immune reactivity in this high TB transmission setting. © 2010 The Union.