Leprosy is an infectious-contagious disease whose clinical evolution depends on the interaction of the infectious agent with the immune response of the host, leading to a clinical spectrum that ranges from lepromatous leprosy (susceptibility, LL) to tuberculoid leprosy (resistance, TT). The immune response profile will depend on the pattern of cytokine production and on the activity of macrophages during infection. Classically, the clinical evolution of leprosy has been associated with Th1/Th2 cytokine profiles, but the role of new cytokine profiles such as T helper 9 (Th9) remains to be elucidated.
To evaluate the tissue expression profile of these cytokines, a cross-sectional study was conducted using a sample of 30 leprosy skin lesion biopsies obtained from patients with leprosy, 16 TT and 14 lepromatous LL.
Immunohistochemical analysis revealed a significant difference in interleukin (IL)-9, IL-4 transforming growth factor (TGF)-β and IL-10 levels between the two groups. IL-9 was more expressed in TT lesions compared with LL lesions. Higher expression of IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β was observed in LL compared with TT. IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β tended to be negatively correlated with the expression of IL-9, indicating a possible antagonistic activity in tissue.
The results suggest that Th9 lymphocytes may be involved in the response to Mycobacterium leprae, positively or negatively regulating microbicidal activity of the local immune system in the disease.