The inhibition of apoptosis of infected host cells is a well-known but poorly understood function of pathogenic mycobacteria. We show that inactivation of the secA2 gene in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which encodes a component of a virulence-associated protein secretion system, enhanced the apoptosis of infected macrophages by diminishing secretion of mycobacterial superoxide dismutase. Deletion of secA2 markedly increased priming of antigen-specific CD8+ T cells in vivo, and vaccination of mice and guinea pigs with a secA2 mutant significantly increased resistance to M. tuberculosis challenge compared with standard M. bovis bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccination. Our results define a mechanism for a key immune evasion strategy of M. tuberculosis and provide what we believe to be a novel approach for improving mycobacterial vaccines.
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