TB research at UT-Houston--a review of cord factor: new approaches to drugs, vaccines and the pathogenesis of tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis remains a major threat as drug resistance continues to increase. Pulmonary tuberculosis in adults is responsible for 80% of clinical cases and nearly 100% of transmission of infection. Unfortunately, since we have no animal models of adult type pulmonary tuberculosis, the most important type of disease remains largely out of reach of modern science and many fundamental questions remain unanswered. This paper reviews research dating back to the 1950's providing compelling evidence that cord factor (trehalose 6,6 dimycolate [TDM]) is essential for understanding tuberculosis. However, the original papers by Bloch and Noll were too far ahead of their time to have immediate impact. We can now recognize that the physical and biologic properties of cord factor are unprecedented in science, especially its ability to switch between two sets of biologic activities with changes in conformation. While TDM remains on organisms, it protects them from killing within macrophages, reduces antibiotic effectiveness and inhibits the stimulation of protective immune responses. If it comes off organisms and associates with lipid, TDM becomes a driver of tissue damage and necrosis. Studies emanating from cord factor research have produced (1) a rationale for improving vaccines, (2) an approach to new drugs that overcome natural resistance to antibiotics, (3) models of caseating granulomas that reproduce multiple manifestations of human tuberculosis. (4) evidence that TDM is a key T cell antigen in destructive lesions of tuberculosis, and (5) a new understanding of the pathology and pathogenesis of postprimary tuberculosis that can guide more informative studies of long standing mysteries of tuberculosis.