The protein antigens from Mycobacterium bovis (BCG), M. tuberculosis, and M. leprae share a number of common determinants. We have used a murine mAb (L7) recognizing such a determinant on a protein of Mr 70,000 to purify this antigen from M. bovis sonicate by affinity chromatography. Enrichment of the protein in column eluates was confirmed by immunoblotting and in antigen inhibition assays. After radiolabelling with 125I, the protein could be immunoprecipitated with human lepromatous leprosy sera. Stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from BCG-vaccinated and naturally mantoux-positive individuals induced proliferation and IFN-gamma secretion, while intradermal injection of purified antigen into the same subjects resulted in a delayed-type hypersensitivity reaction. Thus, the 70,000 molecule carried epitopes capable of reacting with B cells, and eliciting a potentially protective T cell response. The first 15 N-terminal residues were sequenced using a gas-phase sequenator.

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