A mycobacterial aetiology has been suggested for Crohn's disease. A slow growing mycobacterium, biochemically and genetically identical to M paratuberculosis, the causative agent of enteritis in ruminants (Johne's disease), has been isolated from gut specimens of patients affected by Crohn's disease. If M paratuberculosis or other mycobacteria play a role in the pathogenesis of Crohn's disease, then patients may have been sensitised to these mycobacteria or show an anergy immune reaction. We therefore investigated the T-cell mediated immune response to sonicates of M paratuberculosis, M kansasii, M avium, and M tuberculosis in 35 patients with Crohn's disease, 28 with ulcerative colitis, and 25 controls using a macrophage inhibition factor assay on peripheral blood lymphocytes. Two types of reaction patterns were identified--that is, 'responders' (subjects with a macrophage inhibition factor assay in which a dose response relation was present and a percentage of inhibition exceeding 20%), and 'non-responders'. There was no significant difference in the prevalence of responders (59%-80%) and non-responders (20%-41%) to these mycobacteria between the group of Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and control group. We found also that a large proportion of controls showed T-cell immunisation to the mycobacteria which supports the contention that the antigens are practically commensal. Our results do not support the proposed involvement of mycobacteria in the pathogenesis of Crohn's disease.
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