Trinity supports Harvard University in global tuberculosis research consortium

Posted on: 08 March 2023

Trinity researchers provide unique human model to help unpick the mechanism of human lung immune corruption by the tuberculosis bacterium .

Trinity supports Harvard University in global tuberculosis research consortium

Tuberculosis (TB) is very successful plague. One of the reasons is because the TB bacteria can corrupt a human immune cell (called the pulmonary macrophage) that should otherwise kill the invading pathogen in the lung. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the germ that causes tuberculosis, and it damages macrophages by causing lysosomal swelling, deacidification and the accumulation of lipids that it depends on for its survival. Lysosomes are membrane bound structures with an acidic interior that can kill invading bacteria within the macrophage. 

In exciting new work, published in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Investigation, a global consortium of researchers led by Harvard University, has demonstrated that this formidable pathogen has a potent weapon - a lipid known as 1-TbAd - which can corrupt the otherwise successful macrophage response to infection. The Trinity College/St. James Hospital group made a unique contribution to this research because of their exceptional model of TB disease which uses human pulmonary macrophages, donated from consenting patients undergoing bronchoscopy.  

Trinity researchers, Professor Joe Keane, Dr Seonadh O’Leary and Dr Mary O’Sullivan, have shown that after exposure to TbAd, lysosomes swell up in human pulmonary macrophages, indicative of deacidification. The Trinity group were among the first to show that the Vitamin A derivative, ATRA, helps the macrophage kill the TB bacillus, and is a promising new therapeutic for TB. In this new report, the group has shown that 1-TbAd interferes with the beneficial effect of ATRA by driving lipid accumulation in macrophages. They even show preliminary results with a chemical that stimulates calcium channels and that serves as an antidote to negative effects of 1-TbAd.  

Tuberculosis is re-establishing itself as the biggest infectious killer globally, and Ireland has had a recent increase in multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis, because of the war crises in Europe.  By unpicking the mechanism of how Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes disease, future work may lead to new host-directed therapy for this disease that is entering the post-antibiotic era. 

You can read the full paper ‘A terpene nucleoside from M. tuberculosis induces lysosomal lipid storage in foamy macrophages’ HERE. 

The Trinity St James’s research was funded by the Royal City of Dublin Hospital Trust 


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