The threat of getting infected with tuberculosis (TB) is enhanced by subjection to smoke from cigarettes and burning fuel. Now, a new research reveals this is because smoke blocks up immune cells and weakens their capability to battle TB bacteria.
The global study, lead by the University of Cambridge in the UK, is presented in the journal Cell.
It seems that smoke particles might have an impact on macrophages – basically the “giant eaters” of the immune system. Macrophages behave like “vacuum cleaners” for unnecessary material, aiding to disposing off and recycling billions of dead cells daily.
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection triggered by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It can propagate to any part in the body, but it is most frequently identified in the lungs.
TB propagates from one individual to another individual via the air and can cause breathlessness, wasting and, gradually, death. Therapies exist and generally last for about 6 months.
Macrophages are the immune system’s initial line of defense against TB when it initially enters the body. The immune cell engulfs the bacterial cell and attempts to break it down. In many instances, this is successful – macrophages destroy the TB bacteria and infection is prevented.
However, in some cases, the TB bacteria manage to prevent being broken down. In addition, they even use the macrophages to give them a ride deep inside the body and distribute infection.
Once it is set up, TB then organizes the macrophages into tight clusters known as tubercles, or granulomas. At this phase, the macrophages still have not given up but if they lose this last fight, the bacteria use the structure to pass on from one cell to other cell.
Clogged-up macrophages can’t engulf TB bacteria so well
For their research, the team applied zebrafish to notice what takes place inside macrophages when they encounter TB bacteria. Zebrafish are especially helpful for this type of study simply because they are transparent.
The investigators genetically screened zebrafish to figure out which gene variants made them vulnerable to TB. One gene mutation made them mainly vulnerable: it triggers a deficiency in macrophages.
Macrophages break down unnecessary material and they also recycle it. They have unique digestion compartments within them called lysosomes. The investigators identified in the TB-susceptible zebrafish, mutant macrophages accumulated waste material in their lysosomes.
The study authors observe that this accumulated undigested lysosomal content disrupts the macrophages’ capability to recycle, and it also “affects their migration to, and therefore engulfment of, dying cells.”
In the next stage of their research, the investigators demonstrated that clogging up the macrophages’ lysosomes in the zebrafish with non-biological material – like as tiny plastic beads – has the same outcome. They could not react to infection when they were clogged up.
Macrophages become fatter and less agile
Lead researcher Lalita Ramakrishnan, describes that the macrophages, not able to recycle the debris, turn into “larger and fatter and less capable to move around and clear up other material,” and adds:
This can turn into a issue in TB due to the fact once the TB granuloma forms, the host’s best bet is to deliver in more macrophages at a slow stable pace to assist the already infected macrophages.”
But the increased macrophages can’t move into the TB granuloma. The outcome is that the macrophages that are previously inside the structure burst and form a “soup” in which the bacteria can develop and spread the infection.
Lastly, the investigators analyzed macrophages from the lungs of people who smoke. They identified their lysosomes were also clogged up, as they observe in their conclusion:
“A greater part of their alveolar macrophages exhibit lysosomal accumulations of tobacco smoke particulates and do not move to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The incapacitation of extremely microbicidal first-responding macrophages may lead to smokers’ susceptibility to tuberculosis.”
The investigators recommend stopping smoking decreases the risk of developing TB due to the fact it enables the clogged-up, slow macrophages to die off and progressively be replaced by new, fit cells.