T lymphocytes from patients with lepromatous leprosy (LL) characteristically fail to respond to Mycobacterium leprae. This specific immunologic defect is thought to contribute to the aggressive clinical course that typifies patients with LL. We report that although fresh CD4+ (helper) T cells from most LL patients are specifically unresponsive to M. leprae, after culture in medium alone for 48 hr the same cells respond to M. leprae antigens. The recovery of T cell function is specific for M. leprae, occurs at the level of responder CD4+ T cells, and is not affected by monocytes or CD8+ (suppressor) T cells. Recovery of T cell reactivity is blocked by the presence of M. leprae bacilli in the preculture medium. These findings indicate that despite the apparent specific anergy seen in patients with LL, the T cells of most LL patients can respond to M. leprae. Their failure to do so, in vivo, may be due to the persistence of antigen, which renders antigen-reactive T cells nonresponsive either directly or via activation of CD4+ suppressor cells.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.