Pathology of postprimary tuberculosis in humans and mice: Contradiction of long-held beliefs

Robert L. Hunter, Chinnaswamy Jagannath, Jeffrey K. Actor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Tuberculosis remains one of the world's leading infectious causes of death. Approximately 80% of all disease is due to postprimary (secondary) tuberculosis in the lung. Unfortunately, tissues of developing lesions are seldom available and there are no recognized models of postprimary tuberculosis. In the preantibiotic era when tissues were more abundant, several investigators described early postprimary tuberculosis as a lipid pneumonia quite different from the caseating granulomas commonly described today. We used histopathologic, immunohistochemical and acid fast stains to examine tissues from several people with untreated primary and postprimary tuberculosis and compared the findings with those of mice with reactivation tuberculosis. The results confirmed that developing postprimary tuberculosis begins as a lipid pneumonia accompanied by bronchial obstruction in which infection is restricted to foamy alveolar macrophages. Cavities result from a combination of caseation of tuberculous pneumonia and microvascular occlusion characteristic of delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH). Reactivation tuberculosis in the mouse begins as a similar tuberculous lipid pneumonia with bronchial obstruction and evidence for participation of DTH. Developing necrosis in both species is associated with localization of organisms within lipid droplets. These results suggest that reactivation tuberculosis in mice is a valuable model of developing human postprimary tuberculosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-278
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Human
  • Lung
  • Mouse
  • Pathology
  • Postprimary
  • Secondary
  • Tuberculosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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