The development of granulomas is a major histopathological feature of tuberculosis. Very little information is available concerning the physiology and functions of different cell types in the tuberculous granulomas. The aim of this study was to compare the epithelioid cells (ECs) and multinucleated giant cells (MGCs) in the granulomas caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex organisms. Lymph node biopsies from 30 cases of lymphadenitis were studied for expression of the secreted mycobacterial protein MPT64, caspase 3 as a marker of apoptosis, apoptosis-related proteins (Fas Ligand, Fas and Bax) and inflammatory cytokines (interleukin-10, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), tumour necrosis factor-α and interferon-γ) by immunohistochemistry. MGCs more often contained M. tuberculosis secretory antigen MPT64 (p < 0.001) and expressed more TGF-β (p = 0.004) than ECs. The total number of apoptotic MGCs was higher than the number of apoptotic ECs (p = 0.04). Interestingly, there was a significant negative correlation between apoptosis and MPT64 expression in MGCs (r = −0.569, p = 0.003), but not in ECs, implying that the heavy antigen load would lead to inhibition of apoptosis in these cells. When compared with ECs, higher percentage of MGCs expressed Fas Ligand and Fas (p < 0.004). The role of MGCs may thus be different from surrounding ECs and these cells by virtue of higher mycobacterial antigen load, more TGF-β and reduced apoptosis may contribute towards persistence of infection
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