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Experimental leprosy: a model of epithelioid cell granuloma


Colin L. Crawford, mrcp
17 Gloucester Court
516 Lordship Lane
Dulwich, London SE22 8GB, UK


An animal model of granulomatous hypersensitivity has been developed, which reproduces some features of the pathologies of important chronic granulomatous disorders, including tuberculosis, tuberculoid leprosy, sarcoidosis, berylliosis, Crohn’s disease, and sensitivity to zirconium. The lesions consist of focal collections of epithelioid cells surrounded by lymphocytes to form tubercles. The epithelioid cell has a secretory function and is not phagocytic. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells are precursors of epithelioid cells, which are therefore part of the innate immune system. Subplasmalemmal linear densities are also present in these cells. This autoimmune model has been induced in rabbits using a non-myelin sensory peripheral antigen to reproduce the features of tuberculoid leprosy. The antigen is probably present only in human tissue. A granuloma antigen, which is tissue specific similar to that in peripheral nerves, could be present in sarcoidosis and Crohn’s disease. In multiple sclerosis, mononuclear cells in the brain parenchyma are not phagocytic and are therefore similar to epithelioid cells. The induction of tolerance leading to the development of a vaccine to prevent the lesions in multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis, and Crohn’s disease is possible after purification of the granuloma antigen.