The early (six hours) reaction to tuberculin skin testing was studied in 33 Indonesian hospital workers with frequent occupational exposure to M tuberculosis and compared with responses maximal at the usual time (48 hours) in factory workers, from the same locality but with only occasional occupational exposure, to determine the nature of the early reaction. The early reaction had the same general histopathological appearance as that seen in the conventional (48 hour) reaction, and both had an infiltrate consisting largely of T lymphocytes and macrophages. The cell densities were lower in the six hour reactions, but the relative concentration of macrophages was greater in the earlier response. These histometric measurements suggested that the six hour reaction was an accelerated delayed hypersensitivity reaction. Moreover, the absence of a specific IgE response or of particulate masses of Ig or complement, made it unlikely an anaphylactoid or Arthus-type reaction could have been responsible. It is concluded that those with frequent occupational exposure to M tuberculosis have larger numbers of circulating T cells reactive with mycobacterial antigens, so that the development of the skin test response to tuberculin is less dependent on "by-stander" cell infiltration to mediate the delayed hypersensitivity reaction than the reactions in those with less intense and less frequent natural exposure. The skin test response maximal at six hours is probably a hyperimmune reaction to an antigen recognised by T cells.
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