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OBJECTIVES: New tests are needed to overcome the limitations of existing immunodiagnostic tests for tuberculosis (TB) infection, including their inability to differentiate between active TB and latent TB infection (LTBI). This review aimed to identify the most promising cytokine biomarkers for use as stage-specific markers of TB infection. METHODS: A systematic review was done using electronic databases to identify studies that have investigated Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB)-specific cytokine responses as diagnostic tools to differentiate between LTBI and active TB. RESULTS: The 56 studies included in this systematic review measured the MTB-specific responses of 100 cytokines, the most frequently studied of which were IFN-γ, IL-2, TNF-α, IP-10, IL-10 and IL-13. Ten studies assessed combinations of cytokines, most commonly IL-2 and IFN-γ. For most cytokines, findings were heterogenous between studies. The variation in results likely relates to differences in the study design and laboratory methods, as well as participant and environmental factors. CONCLUSIONS: Although several cytokines show promise as stage-specific markers of TB infection, this review highlights the need for further well-designed studies, in both adult and paediatric populations, to establish which cytokine(s) will be of most use in a new generation of immunodiagnostic tests.

Original publication




Journal article


J Infect

Publication Date



Active TB, Cytokine biomarkers, LTBI, Systematic review, Tuberculosis