Exploiting the mycobacterial cell wall to design improved vaccines against tuberculosis
The only vaccine available against tuberculosis (TB), the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), does not provide effective protection against the most common forms of adult TB and in recent years efforts have been made to develop a new and improved vaccine. Among the strategies implemented, the generation of a new live attenuated mycobacterial strain is seen as one of the most promising and feasible, for scientific, ethical and practical reasons. The new understanding of the biology of the tubercle bacilli and of host-pathogen interaction processes, coupled with the possibility to engineer BCG or M. tuberculosis, opened new avenues to design “intelligent” vaccines, capable of eliciting the immune response associated with protection while avoiding the induction of the host immune response associated with immunopathology. The complex and highly immunogenic mycobacterial cell wall can shape the general and antigen specific immune response elicited following immunization, and the possibility to exploit this knowledge may lead to the development of new vaccines that could help conquer this ancient human disease.