The immune control of tuberculosis (TB) infection could be influenced by pregnancy. To elucidate this, we longitudinally characterized Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb)-specific and nonspecific immune responses in women during pregnancy and postpartum. HIV-uninfected women without past or current active TB, and with blood samples available from the 1st/2nd trimester, 3rd trimester, and 9 months postpartum, were identified at Ethiopian antenatal care clinics. Twenty-two TB1 women and 10 TB2 women, defined according to Mtb-stimulated interferon-g levels ($0.35 and,0.20 IU/mL, respectively, in the Quantiferon-TB Gold-Plus assay), were included in the study. Longitudinal dynamics of six cytokines (IL-1ra, IL-2, IP-10, MCP-2, MCP-3, and TGF-b1) were analyzed in supernatants from Mtb-stimulated and unstimulated whole blood. In TB1 women, Mtb-specific expression of IL-2 and IP-10 was higher at 3rd compared to 1st/2nd trimester (median 139 pg/mL versus 62 pg/mL, P = 0.006; 4,999 pg/mL versus 2,310 pg/mL, P = 0.031, respectively), whereas level of Mtb-triggered TGF-b1 was lower at 3rd compared to 1st/2nd trimester (26.8 ng/mL versus 2.3 ng/mL, P = 0.020). Unstimulated IL-2, IP-10, and MCP-2 levels were increased postpartum, compared with those noted during pregnancy, in TB1 women. Additionally, postpartum levels of proinflammatory cytokines in unstimulated blood were higher in TB1 women, than in TB2 women. None of the women developed active TB during follow-up. Taken together, dynamic changes of Mtb-specific cytokine expression revealed during the 3rd trimester in TB1 women indicate increased Mtb-antigen stimulation at later stages of pregnancy. This could reflect elevated bacterial activity, albeit without transition to active TB, during pregnancy. IMPORTANCE Tuberculosis (TB) is globally one of the most common causes of death, and a quarter of the world's population is estimated to have TB infection. The risk of active TB is increased in connection to pregnancy, a phenomenon that could be due to physiological immune changes. Here, we studied the effect of pregnancy on immune responses triggered in HIV-uninfected women with TB infection, by analyzing blood samples obtained longitudinally during pregnancy and after childbirth. We found that the dynamics of Mtb-specific and nonspecific immune responses changed during pregnancy, especially in later stages of pregnancy, although none of the women followed in this study developed active TB. This suggests that incipient TB, with elevated bacterial activity, occurs during pregnancy, but progression of infection appears to be counteracted by Mtb-specific immune responses. Thus, this study sheds light on immune control of TB during pregnancy, which could be of importance for future intervention strategies.
- Reproduktionsmedicin och gynekologi