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Genetics and Resistance to Tuberculosis: Could Resistance Be Enhanced by Genetic Engineering?

William W. Stead, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

Requests for Reprints: William W. Stead, MD, Tuberculosis Program, Arkansas Department of Health, 4815 Markham Street, Little Rock, AR 72205-3867.

Current Author Address: Dr. Stead: Tuberculosis Program, Arkansas Department of Health, 4815 Markham Street, Little Rock, AR 72205-3867.


© 1992 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1992;116(11):937-941. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-116-11-937
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▪ Recent observations strongly suggest a significant role for genetic factors in innate resistance to infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This relation was discovered in a study of tuberculosis in Arkansas nursing homes and was supported by data from three outbreaks of tuberculosis in two prisons. A person's resistance level was found to correlate with the region of his or her ancestry. Ancestors of person's in the more resistant group tended to derive from densely populated areas and cities rife with tuberculosis, whereas the ancestors of person's in the more susceptible group tended to derive from areas once free of tuberculosis. In accordance with current genetic theory, those persons who are less resistant to tuberculosis would be expected to be more resistant to infections endemic to the region once inhabited by their ancestors. Isolation of the gene previously shown to confer specific innate (nonimmune) resistance to tuberculosis should result in the creation of a more rational approach to increasing the capacity of human macrophages to kill tubercle bacilli without producing a positive tuberculin skin test.

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