Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes widespread, persistent infection, often residing in macrophages that neither sterilize the bacilli nor allow them to cause disease. How macrophages restrict growth of pathogens is one of many aspects of human phagocyte biology whose study relies largely on macrophages differentiated from monocytes in vitro. However, such cells fail to recapitulate the phenotype of tissue macrophages in key respects, including that they support early, extensive replication of M. tuberculosis and die in several days. Here we found that human macrophages could survive infection, kill Mycobacterium bovis BCG, and severely limit the replication of M. tuberculosis for several weeks if differentiated in 40% human plasma under 5%–10% (physiologic) oxygen in the presence of GM-CSF and/or TNF-α followed by IFN-γ. Control was lost with fetal bovine serum, 20% oxygen, M-CSF, higher concentrations of cytokines, or premature exposure to IFN-γ. We believe that the new culture method will enable inquiries into the antimicrobial mechanisms of human macrophages.
Guillaume Vogt, Carl Nathan
Approximate net number of mycobacterial divisions in mice, in humans, and in their macrophages.