BACKGROUND: Data on the percentage of gamma/delta T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of patients infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis are few and contradictory. The percentage of gamma/delta T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of tuberculin positive and tuberculin negative patients with Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection and healthy controls was compared. METHODS: Thirty six patients infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis and 11 healthy controls were studied. Lymphocytes were separated, cytocentrifuged onto glass microscope slides, and reacted with anti-gamma/delta monoclonal antibody. The percentage of gamma/delta positive cells was determined by microscopic counting of 300 lymphocytes. RESULTS: No difference was found in the percentage of gamma/delta T lymphocytes between patients and controls. However, when the patients were divided into two groups according to reactivity or non-reactivity in the Mantoux skin reaction a higher percentage of gamma/delta T lymphocytes was found in the peripheral blood of patients with tuberculin anergy than in tuberculin positive patients or controls. CONCLUSIONS: Higher gamma/delta T cell counts are found in tuberculin negative patients with tuberculosis than in tuberculin positive patients or tuberculin positive controls. The high gamma/delta T cell counts in tuberculin anergic patients may reflect a shift in the immune response in a Th2 direction characterised by increased antibody production and decreased cell mediated responses.
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